Sunday, December 30, 2012

For the Love of Eggnog

I am a fan of Eggnog.  I love the taste, the texture, the aroma.  I love everything about Eggnog.  My favorite brand is actually the generic HEB brand.  Light Eggnog is too thin, brand name Eggnog is too thick, and Soy Nog - just no.  What is my problem with Eggnog then?  I am lactose intolerant.

Anyone who suffers from lactose intolerance, or milk related allergies, can understand the pain and suffering for you and those around you after ingesting milk.  If I had enemies, I would never wish lactose intolerance upon them.  It is uncomfortable, unpleasant, and highly inconvenient.  The train scene from Samantha’s favorite movie “French Kiss,” sums up lactose intolerance quite well.  After Meg Ryan’s character eats more cheese than she can handle, the evil beast rears its head: "Spasm! Spasm! Oh, God, here it comes... lactose intolerance!"  (It really is a cute movie if you are looking for a date night rom-com).

When the holiday season rolls around I know Eggnog follows closely behind; despite all of the discomfort, I am eager for it.  Maybe I am a bit masochistic, but I yearn for Eggnog.  I cherish its delicate touch on my tastebuds.  I somehow convince myself I have been cured from my lactose intolerance.  With every sip (and I do sip to make it last as long as I can) I pray my insides won’t succumb to their evil tendencies.

Growing up, I had no problems with milk products.  I remember sitting and drinking whole glasses of milk.  In fact, if I had trouble sleeping at night, I had a sure-fire concoction to put me back to sleep - warm up a glass of milk in the microwave, dump a whole bunch of sugar into it, and stir in a little maple syrup.  As an adult, I can look back and realize I really just put myself into a severe carb coma, but at the time, I thought it was the milk.  Then, at some point during my sophomore year in high school, my body rebelled; milk and I no longer agreed.

Over the next couple of years, I convinced myself and my parents that Eggnog didn’t bother me like milk did.  During the holidays, we bought extra Eggnog and froze it, ensuring that the Nog would be around for the remainder of the year.  I didn’t use it in my cereal or anything, it was just there in the event I craved thick, milky sweetness - which of course, I did.

Eventually, the realization set in that Eggnog and milk were essentially the same thing, minus some heavy cream, eggs,  and a pound of sugar or so, and I let go of my unhealthy yearlong binge.  But, despite my acknowledgement of the discomfort it brings, I still look forward to the Eggnog time of year.

I am not sure I will ever understand the part of me that willfully ignores the impending results of imbibing Eggnog.  It is not an addiction, otherwise I would seek Eggnog out the rest of the year, which I do not.  It is more like a yearly visit from an old friend with whom I share a tumultuous, yet rich history.  Yet every year, without fail, that visit ends in us rolling around on the ground throwing punches and pulling hair.  

Maybe it is human nature to nurture a long term weakness simply because of the temporary pleasures it delivers.  I am sure if I look closer, I will discover more of those than just the lust for the sweet Nog.  Unfortunately, we so often ignore the reality of our situation to reap the benefits, however temporary they may be.  I know I do.  When it comes to the glory of Eggnog, no matter how problematic it might be, I set aside all knowledge of lactose intolerance, fully immersing myself in the depths of delicious, liquid sweetness.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Season of Distractions

The universe has thrown many distractions our way this year as Christmas approaches.  The media latches onto every big story, pumping them for everything they have, blowing them up on our TV screens, on the radio, on our computers.  Everywhere we look, there they are.  For just a moment, disconnect, find some peace, and focus on what this season is really about.
Christmas is coming.  Regardless of the manner in which you participate - be it religious or secular - the roots of the Christmas holiday still stem from the same source - love.  For Christians, the Christmas holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus.  As St. John the Devine teaches in the Gospel "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son."  This gift of love is seen as the first Christmas gift and is supposed to be the model for our gift giving.

Santa Claus is modeled off the legend of St. Nicholas, a fourth century Greek Bishop living in modern day Turkey.  St. Nicholas was known for his giving heart.  One story, the one most likely to be based on historical fact, has St. Nick giving a bag of gold to a family three times - each the night before their three daughters come of age.  St. Nick even goes so far to avoid recognition he drops a bag of gold down the chimney, landing it in a stocking hung to dry.

Whether you celebrate Christmas because of Jesus or simply to follow the gift giving of a fourth century saint, the idea behind the gifting still holds.  Our gifts are supposed to be acts of love.

With more information about the Newtown, Connecticut shootings arriving every day, we might tend to focus on the plight of man instead of the hope portrayed in the Christmas message.  While I can understand our concern at the failings of our society and the need for discussion on how to prevent such events from occurring again, if viewed from an incorrect position, our view of this Christmas season will definitely be skewed.  As I suggested in Following the Ripples, keep your heart and soul set on love.

The shootings give us an opportunity to give a Christmas sized gift as well.  The country is expending so much energy right now in figuring out how to prevent future mass killings.  Some say limit guns, some say give everyone guns.  Some focus on mental health care, some on video games.  Everyone knows something needs to be done, but there is no consensus on the next step.  Christmas is the perfect message and offers the perfect solution.  We must follow the examples of the Bible and St. Nicholas - give love freely.  Root every action in love.  Teach love to your children through every thought and action.  Love yourself, your neighbor, your community, etc.

A gift of love can change the world more than we can know.  With so much attention on the so-called Mayan apocalypse, all our thoughts were on whether or not the world would end.  Perhaps the end of the age was so much more simple than we thought.  Maybe the end of the calendar only signaled a change in the way humans deal with each other.  Perhaps now, we will choose to act through love in everything.

This Christmas, remember what is important.  As the bumper sticker proclaims - "remember the reason for the season."  That reason, ultimately, is love.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Following the Ripples

In a world where every violent tragedy is painted as a sign of humanity’s degradation and certain failure, I choose to withhold judgement - not of the killer, but of humanity.  The act of murder is vile and disgusting; our reaction to this particular tragedy is heightened because of the innocence of the young victims and the heroism of the adults.  Instead of allowing ourselves to become inundated with the hateful feeling engendered by this vicious act, I suggest we do something entirely opposite.

When a thrown pebble enters the surface of a pond, its energy is immediately transferred to the water itself, creating ripples.  The ripples carry the energy from the pebble until the energy is absorbed or neutralized, returning the surface of the pond to a state of equilibrium.  The larger the rock or the faster it travels, the more energy is released upon impact, creating bigger ripples that last longer and take more time to find equilibrium.

A small private tragedy in a localized area rarely makes ripples beyond its own borders.  These are our pebbles, leaving small ripples behind which dissipate quickly.  To the people involved, the ripples created are no less important, but the number of people affected is decidedly less.

The Connecticut tragedy is akin to a boulder plummeting into a lake.  The ripples created are immense - I am sure you feel them ripping through your soul every time you read a news article, see a post on facebook celebrating the lives of one of the dead, or when you look at loved ones of your own.  It is impossible to imagine the kind of feelings felt by those at the point of impact, when our own feelings have such tremendous energy. 

An instant after the stone strikes the surface of the water, it submerges, disappearing from sight.  The only evidence anything occurred is contained in the energy rippling out from the center.

We all feel the ripples of this tragedy.  I do not have children, yet tears still grace my eyes at the thought of loss these families endure.  Social media roars with the raw emotions every time a ripple pushes past.  My hope is that we do not succumb to the rage, the anger, or the hate, pushed forward so aggressively on the crest of the ripples.  Instead, we need to embrace the opposite of those destructive emotions - love - and help the ripples to dissipate faster.

After a disturbance on water's surface, ripples travel until the energy is counteracted by an equal force, or until the energy has been absorbed by the lake itself.

As a ripple comes upon you, keep your mind focused on the people in your life and how much you love them.  Look to those who have lost someone and see the love they feel for them - that love is what gives them so much pain, not the rage or hate they might feel for the killer.  Let the energy of this event ramp up your love for everything and everyone.  Negative emotions can not stand in the face of true, perfect love.  Be part of the counteracting force that helps to dissipate the negative energy sent out from this terrible event.

A body of water whose surface is disturbed can never truly reflect that which is above it.  Only by creating perfect stillness, absent of ripples, can a perfect reflection occur.  The more we can help to buffer any ripples that do occur, the closer we as individuals, and we as a race, can get to perfect stillness.  The way to find that stillness is to exist in a constant state of love, neutralizing the negative energy sent out from ripples such as the one we experienced recently.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Up on the Rooftop

The spirit of the Christmas season engenders a vast range of emotions.  Excitement blooms as trees claim their traditional places, anticipation for Christmas morning permeates the young and the old, anxiety festers at the state of the checkbook, melancholy lingers for those Christmases past.  Odd as it is, just yesterday the Christmas season delivered a new, unfamiliar emotion to me - fear.  
I am not normally a fearful person, regardless of the season.  I work to keep an even keel, avoiding situations that might encourage a fear response, staying centered emotionally when presented with a fear inducing problem.  Fear is such a negative emotion, I avoid inviting it into my life.  In fact, I actively pursue the opposites of fear - calm certainty, joyful appreciation, loving anticipation of the uncertain.  In my experience, these are much better approaches to living life.

Most fear responses seem to come from the unknown and uncertain.  Fans of scary movies would tell you that the fear response is created in the audience by not knowing what is behind the glowing door.  As soon as the door opens and the monster is revealed, the emotion shifts from fear to something closer to fright.

Our imaginations are creative powerhouses.  They have built this amazing world in which we live.  But, along with the our creative inventiveness comes the specter of the unknown.  What lies behind the door gives rise to terrifyingly creative answers, most which are profoundly more fear generating than whatever CGI inspired creature inevitably shows up.

My fear response did not have to do with scary movies or real life hauntings.  In fact, as mentioned before, I encountered fear while participating in a pillar of the Christmas season - hanging lights on my roof.

In the five Christmas seasons since Samantha and I moved into our house, I have hung the lights once before, two years ago.  This year, I followed the same process as before.  I used an eight foot ladder to reach the lip of the roof, climbing carefully over the gutter.  Once on the roof, I laid the lights down and reviewed the plan.  While I am sure we do not have the steepest roof ever built, it certainly felt steeper than the last time I was up there.  I quickly, but safely, climbed to the first peak and took a seat, surveying the neighborhood.  After enjoying the cool breeze for a few minutes (it was 82 degrees outside), I began scouting the roof.

My memory of being on the roof before has me scurrying all over the place with full confidence in my safety.  I scrambled up to the peaks, crab walked down to the edges of the roof unreachable by ladder, and was generally unconcerned.  This time, this was not the case.  After slipping and sliding to the second peak, I sat there for quite some time.  In my mind, I was trying to convince myself that I was taking my time to formulate a plan for hanging the lights.  

In reality, I was too scared to move.

My feet had been sliding more than I remembered and my shoes didn’t seem to have the right grip.  The drop to the ground seemed further.  The angle of the roof seemed more steep.  Nothing seemed to feel right.

So, I did what any man would do.  I sucked it up.  Well, for a moment, anyway.  I slid out to the front-most peak, straddling the point, and hung some light holders underneath the shingles.  I wasn’t quite shaking, but I was definitely not comfortable.  After retreating back to the safety of the center of the roof, I looked around again, weighing my options, telling myself I wasn’t going to give up.  I slid my way back to the ladder and climbed down, defeated.

Feeling fear in this way was unfamiliar and it made me ask some questions to which I am not sure I knows the answers.  Was it fear or intuition?  What is the difference between fear and intuition?  Are they related?

I am a big believer in following your intuition, and there is definitely a part of me that says intuition played a large part in getting off the roof, but I have to wonder, can irrational fear influence the perception of an intuitive response?  I think so.  I think it is important to make sure we know the difference between the two responses and how they relate to each other.  Unfortunately, that takes practice encountering fear, which is not something I am interested in pursuing.

Either way, whether intuition, simply fear, or some hybrid of the two, the oak tree and the bushes in front of my house now look quite festive.  

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Today not Tomorrow

- Pope John Paul II

I am the kind of person who has the unfortunate habit of living for tomorrow instead of today.  Occasionally, I enjoy rare bursts of inspiration when tomorrow and today merge, and instead of continuing to put off today’s work until tomorrow, I live for today and take care of my business.  I have to admit, I would much rather live a life full of today’s than tomorrows.

The even more unfortunate truth is that I am certain I am not alone.  Neither am I in a small minority, or even a large substrate of the population.  The people who live for tomorrow instead of today permeate our existence, leaving those who choose today to enjoy the many fruits of this world.  Those of us who sometimes overcome our silent pledge to procrastination occasionally taste the joy the world offers when we power through the resilient bonds we have placed around ourselves.  
- Latin for "seize the day"

We begin to develop the terrible habit when we are young, fostering our addiction like a newfound pet.  I will put my toys away later.  I will brush my teeth in the morning.  I will do my chores after this TV show is finished.  Eventually, minor delays become major obstacles to moving forward in our lives.  School work succumbs to the inevitable; we choose to sacrifice the quality of our work for some simple pleasure that ultimately, if examined further, will turn out to be trivial at best.
- Robert Kiyosaki
Our youth fails to fend off the infection and by the time we are adults our fault has real consequences.  How many have put off paying bills until you get the late notice accompanied by a significant late fee?  How many of us have put off an auto repair until the car dies?  What is a credit card but a way of paying for something later that we want now.

How many people do you know, including yourself, who put off discussing something important with a loved one until too late.  The results can vary from broken relationships or unwanted pregnancies to death.  Most of the time biting the bullet and getting it over with is the better decision.

Ironically, I began this blog last Sunday but ran out of time before lunch.  Did I return to in and finish that afternoon?  No.  Did I have time and choose to do something else of lesser consequence?  Yes.  Have I had time since then?  Yep.
Now, I am not suggesting we avoid taking times to do what we want instead of what we should.  Making decisions about our life is part of free will.  I am asking you to reflect upon your decisions and actions and decide how they are made.  Do you actually live by free will, or are your decisions determined by a series of earlier actions that lead to an addiction to procrastination.  I can understand any reluctance you might feel.  

Turning the magnifying lens on ourselves is often quite hard because we have to admit our faults.  But, I think it is an important step towards leading a happier existence.  So, take some time today and look back at yourself.  Or, maybe you can do that tomorrow?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Earn This

One of the strongest emotional tugs a good story delivers to my heartstrings centers on the idea of personal sacrifice.  Frequently, at the end of a movie or during the climax of a novel, I find myself a blubbering mess as the hero gives up everything they are in order to save others.  Even now, reflecting on some of the most powerful scenes, my eyes glisten slightly.  Of course, nothing Hollywood or the publishing industry can do will ever be as powerful as real life sacrifice.  Giving of yourself to save and protect others is one of the most honorable actions a person can take.  There is no better example of an organization that exemplifies this idea as the United States Military.  Thank you Veterans for the sacrifices you have made to keep us and our way of life safe.

The word sacrifice too often implies the giving up of ones life in order to protect others; this definition is much too limited.  There are many ways a person can give up their life to serve without having to die.  These sacrifices must be honored as well.  

Veterans and current service men and women give up choice for much of their life.  They live where they are assigned, relocating many times during their service.  If on assignment or deployment, they spend months at a time away from their loved ones.  If in a combat arena, they go about their duties with the knowledge that they may never see their families again.  Yet still they serve, putting our lives ahead of theirs.  

Many Veterans have sacrificed their health for this country and its people.  From those who have returned from deployment with bodily injury to those who come back uninjured physically yet suffering mentally, our Veterans put themselves at risk for us.  Their constant vigilance despite the risk to themselves deserves our recognition and thanks.  It takes a powerful person to knowingly step into a career in which their entire life will be driven by the level of sacrifice their country asks of them.

There are also the few who do give the total sacrifice, giving their life for ours.  While too many of the men and women have have died in service of our country are faceless unknowns to the rest of us, their sacrifice is no less, their honor heightened rather than diminished due to their anonymity.  They do not serve to achieve acclimation and fame.  There is no promise of TV time or a book highlighting their life.  They go about their service for that purpose alone - to serve.

Veterans are special people and they should be recognized as such.  Whether they are serving now or last wore their uniform decades ago, their choice to enter the armed forces was a choice to sacrifice for you and for me.  They don’t know us just as we might not know them, yet with every breath during their service, they lived and died to make sure our lives could be lived free.  Though all of their names may not be inscribed on a memorial, the memory of how they live should be written on our hearts.

While I said before Hollywood comes nowhere near close enough to the idea of real life sacrifice, at least they can offer the rest of us a guide on how to live our lives to honor that sacrifice.  In the final scenes of the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks' character Captain Miller leaves Private Ryan with words the rest of us should live by - "Earn this."

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Splash of Color

Autumn 2011 was one of the most memorable Autumns since the Houston area became my home.  Everywhere the eye gazed, trees exploded with a cornucopia of color.  Reds, oranges, yellows, and innumerable shades unfamiliar to our mediocre falls flashed among the evergreens.  Every time I stepped from my home, my eyes immediately flew to the trees, eager to drink in the color.  Why did we have such a splendid display?  Because the trees almost died.

When I first heard the reason, I found it odd.  Why should we experience a glorious Autumn simply because Texas had sustained one of the worst droughts in its recorded history?  Apparently, the stress of limited rainfall over an extended time period induced the trees to show off their abilities.  I like the idea they were celebrating their continued life, the flame hued foliage playing the same role as our fireworks.

What I wish mine would look like.
Those of you who have visited my home have probably noticed the monstrosity of a bougainvillea nestled along the front walkway.  For most of the growing season it looms along the entryway, long tendrils reaching lush foliage along the house.  Unfortunately, it only blooms in the fall and I am constantly battling it to bloom sooner.  The way to generate early blooms?  Chop the roots and deprive it of water.  After enough time, the poor plant thinks it is going to die and it shoots out blooms as a last ditch effort to propagate.  Of course, the responsible gardener will never take it too far, preferring the colorful blooms to an over-stressed pile of dying vines.

How many of us have experienced similar circumstances?  Deprived of that which sustains us, the universe will frequently present seemingly insurmountable challenges.  Regardless of who you are, being dumped into the crucible happens from time to time.  Look to the trees for answers.  

I recently watched the 1997 Michael Douglas thriller The Game.  Douglas plays the perfectly uptight, super rich, power driven, A-hole he seems to have mastered in many film roles.  His character is given a “game” as a birthday present which throws him into a series of scenarios challenging the very core of his personality.  Through the drama, he is stripped bare; everything he holds dear is taken from him until he has nothing.  It is only then that the game ends, returning everything to a man who has an amazing new perspective on life and a fresh appreciation for the people who share his experience.

While I have never experienced anything as extreme as the character in The Game, my front door bougainvillea, or the Texas trees, I know the universe has thrown me into some tough situations before.  While in the free fall to the bottom, I surely had a difficult time keeping my eyes on the positives.  Hopefully there isn’t a next time, but if there is, I will be sure to recall the lessons learned from the 2011 drought.

Stressful situations will appear in our lives.  We will experience challenges.  We will fail.  We have to know that we will always rise again.  Shake off the shackles of negativity and embrace life.  Follow the example of the trees and celebrate your resurgence with a splash of color.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Changing the Radio

A commercial from my youth stuck with me through the years.  It didn’t resonate with me through poignant humor, over indulgent sexuality, or even for the product it was selling.  Instead, this particular commercial lodged itself in my memory through shock value and a message that is incredibly applicable to today’s society.  The punch line of the commercial - “John didn’t like the song on the radio, so he killed a little girl.”

For those of you who never had the opportunity to see this commercial, let me set the scene.  A young man drives down a typical suburban street jamming to the radio.  The mood is bright and happy.  Everything is fantastic.  The guy decides to change the channel, and as he looks down at the knob, a little girl runs out in front of his car.

Sad, I know.  

If I remember right, there might have been a series of commercials like this.  Or, maybe my brain has just been running with the idea, creating its own series of commercials that  could have worked.

“Ricky wanted the air conditioner on, so he killed a young boy.”

“Gerald decided to spit his gum in the wrapper, so he drove over an old lady.”

“Sarah couldn’t wait to get home to taste her french fries, so she murdered a father of three.”

The implied rationale is that driving contains a certain amount of danger; pay attention while doing it.  More often than not, the old commercial pops into my mind while driving through my neighborhood.  We have a nice running loop frequently populated by fitness enthusiasts, little kids on bikes, and parents with strollers.  The nicer the weather, the more people you will see.  Unfortunately, it is the people you don’t see you have to worry about.  I make sure to keep my eyes peeled.

In today’s tech heavy society, the idea of being aware while driving is even more pertinent.  The distractions of today are extremely commonplace.

“Harold wanted to dial his mom on his phone, so he ran over a pregnant woman.”

“Jillian wanted to text “;-)” to her best friend, so she killed a little boy who just turned three.”

“Brian was interested in whether or not it would rain, so he crushed a jogger pushing a stroller.”

The stark juxtaposition of two contrasting desires shocked me as a young person and shocks me still as an adult.  We are never 100% certain of the results of our actions, nor can we imagine the infinite possibilities stemming from any one of our decision.  Of course, remaining aware of our surroundings, acting responsibly, and being safe, reduces the changes of situations like these from arising.  

Please don’t assume I am perfect.  Despite the haunting memory of the commercial hanging over my head, I still have lapses in sound judgement.  As much as I loathe myself for doing so, I will occasionally pen a text or fumble for directions as I drive.  Usually, I realize what I am doing halfway through and reprimand myself for it. 

I have plenty of hypocritical moments when I see others staring intently at their phones as they drive.  I scold them internally, aware of my hypocrisy, hoping that I won’t make the same error in judgement again.  Maybe I won’t.  I hope not.   I have no desire to be in a commercial.

If you are unsure of whether or not your actions are dangerous, paint them in the stark contrasts provided by the commercial.  Is your email as important as the life of a child?  A family?  An old lady?  Anyone at all?  If it is truly urgent, pull off the road.  Find a gas station, a strip mall, a restaurant parking lot, where you can stop your car and take care of your business.  Otherwise you risk making the terrible choices illustrated above.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Whole Nother Perspective

Nother.  I honestly have no idea to spell this “word.”  Is it nuther?  Or would it be nother, as its origins would suggest.  Maybe knother with a silent k?  For the longest time, I regarded this word with contempt, annoyed at what I considered an unnecessary mutation of our perfect English.  Wow.  How arrogant and pretentious was I?

I have long been one of those people who quietly laughs on the inside at pre-American Revolutionary movies in which the American colonists speak with perfectly formed American dialects, albeit minus such fine words as nother, a’int, or y’all.  The colonists were first, second, or third generation European immigrants, generally residing in homogenous clusters in which accent mixing rarely happened.  A significant portion of the population was English born or raised and surely sounded no different than their evil  Red Coated counterparts.

Hopefully the Brits discovered camouflage. 
Well, at some point during the last 236 years our languages diverged.  We don’t drive lorries, take trips to the loo, or snog our loved ones.  We eat our biscuits with gravy and not tea.  Our chips come in bags instead of accompanied by deep fried cod.  Frankly, I think those Brits sound crazy.

While living in London in 2003, I had the opportunity to make friends with some of our stage crew.  Every now and again, they would rip off a sentence sounding mostly of gibberish, full of dropped consonants and unimaginable slang; we would have to remind our English compatriots to speak English and not British, otherwise there was no way to understand them.

All of our languages evolve as culture grows and changes.  As much as we look at our younger generations with mild amusement for introducing text-speak into conversation, filling our ears with such gems as “tots,” “loled,” or “brb,” they are providing us with a window to the future of American English.  As our world continually shrinks thanks to technological innovation, our cherished language will open its doors to even more intrusion from outside sources.  

I remember the ebonics craze from a few years ago when the Oakland School Board decided to teach Standard American English by using African American Vernacular English (commonly referred to as ebonics) to bridge the gap between the dialect used at home and the one regarded by educational institutions as correct.  The technique is no different than using English to help a high school student learn German, French, Latin, Spanish, etc.  We have to create a bridge between the established knowledge and that which we wish to teach.

Now, let me provide a whole nother example.  My own distaste for improper language usage has evolved as well into something more than tolerance (which frequent readers know is a term I dislike).  Using terms such as nother, tumped, a’int, y’all, fixin to, or contained in text speech, or any other slang based terminology, does not reflect on the speaker’s intelligence.  These words are merely familiar to the person’s experience.  They use these words because they encounter them frequently.

My time in London didn’t grow my vocabulary, but it did alter the way I pronounced a few words - sorry and strawberry being the most notable.  Sorry altered from s-are-ree to s-or-ree and strawberry somehow became - straw-brerry.  I only spent four months immersed in British English and remained surrounded by Americans speaking American English, yet it still impacts my speaking skills nearly a decade later.  Imagine only hearing one slang dialect for the first five or six years of your life.  Does slang usage reflect upon intelligence?  I think not.

Funny enough, in writing this, I discovered that Merriam-Webster includes nother as a word in its lexicon (although spell-check doesn’t seem to agree).  This year, the dictionary standard expanded its catalogue to include other commonly used terms - man cave, sexting, mashup, bucket list, and underwater (referring to mortgages).  

Our language constantly evolves.  Usually we evolve right along with it, not ever realizing we have done so.  So, the next time you hear someone use a word you have never heard, before jumping in to correct them, consider adding it to your own list of favorites.  You may find yourself evolving ahead of the curve.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Turd with a Bow

As the road to November 6 stretches on and on and on . . . and on, we find ourselves under constant bombardment by both sides.  Hate and negativity proliferate the airwaves, striving to direct a campaign weary populace towards one candidate or another.  Somehow, through the deluge of spun facts, slight distortions, and outright untruths, our voting population is supposed to pick the party that will lead us down a path to a better America.  Best of luck to us all.

Emotion will win the election, not facts.  Campaign strategists know this and exploit it at every opportunity.  Their job really has two simple aims - 
  1. Energize the base with fiery rhetoric designed to enflame their emotional attachment to the party brand.
  2. Paint opposing pictures of the two parties/candidates using an unequal mixture of fact and emotion to generate a gut reaction in the independent population

This week’s Republican National Convention provided a prime example of both, as I am sure the Democratic National Convention will.  Networks treated viewers to both the Republican All-Stars, standing at the bully pulpit to preach their conservative agenda mixed with the anti-Obama fear-mongering, and the Democratic talking heads (depending on the network), who offered the opposing ideology.  This week, the Democrats will present the yin to the Republicans yang, completing the circle of full cycle campaign rhetoric.

Most people have difficulty expressing their political opinion in a calm and focused discussion.  Usually it breaks down into emotional responses instead of intellectual ones.  This is the way the parties prefer it.  They want us thinking with our stomach rather than our brain.  If the only reason we vote for a specific candidate is the way we feel about them (or the other guy) instead of reasoning through the facts about each of their policies, then the campaign managers have earned their paychecks.  They don’t want thoughtful voters, they want panicked lemmings.

They way I hear it, from all media sources, not just the ones labeled as biased, from the messages in campaign ads, from the candidates themselves, from their PACs and Super-PACs, is that I have a choice.  My choice is limited to one disaster or another.  I can choose between two different economic dooms, two different types of destruction, two different kinds of American apocolypse.

Basically, I am getting a turd with a bow on it, but I get to choose the least offending bow.

Is this the kind of way we should be making our decisions?  Do you want the greatest country in the world run by a man placed there because you were scared of the alternative?  I certainly don’t.  I want this country to head in a direction crafted by thoughtful choice instead of fearful negativity.  Emotion is easy, but thinking will yield greater results.

Consider the facts.  Instead of reacting emotionally to a speech, an ad, or the chopped up soundbites loved by the media, do some research.  Cobble together your own realty-based impression of the candidates and the parties and use your brain to decide who you will vote for, not your stomach.  This is the only way to sort through the maelstrom of partial facts and misinformation thrown at us everyday.

Remember that you are an American.  You have your own voice.  You are allowed to be an independent thinker free of social pressures.  Wade past your emotional responses and find the issues important to you, then think about them.

It is this way that we can ensure America’s greatness.  Otherwise, regardless of the man we choose, or the party we put in power, we are guaranteed an America as the result of emotion tugging campaign managers instead of an America built by the thoughtful will of its citizens.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Live to Work or Work to Live?

It is the time of year when the familiar chug of yellow buses rumbles down the streets of our neighborhoods again.  It is the time when school zone hours can earn you speeding tickets again (and make sure you aren’t on your cell phone!).  It is the time when young people grow nervous and their parents excited.  It is time for school to begin.

Also, at least from my perspective, it is time for my blog to resume.  Ironically enough, my last blog post, from July 1, was titled The Balancing Act.  Since then, I have found anything but balance.  After nearly two months of being away (while not actually being away), it is time to return.

Staring at this all day long.  I am surprised I am not crazy.
Or maybe I am?
In The Balancing Act, I rhapsodized over the goal of finding work-life balance, and for much of July I convinced myself I was doing that.  I taught my lessons three and a half days during the week and had the rest of the week for myself.  Or so I thought.  Somewhere along the line I allowed myself to believe that working my marching band design business during my free hours was “my time.”  Don’t ask me how, but it never crossed my mind that drill writing and music arranging was not relaxation.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but I displayed some amazing naiveté by not connecting the dots.  By the end of July, my days had become everything I had attempted to avoid by no longer band directing.  To further the irony, I had thrown myself to the mercy of my work a full month earlier than my high school band director friends.  I woke and wrote drill.  I went and taught lessons.  I wrote drill during breaks.  When I was done, I wrote drill, many times until well past midnight.  I wrote drill sitting next to Samantha on the couch, just so we would have some together time.  

Balance?  No sir.

So, as I sit here, not writing drill, but instead writing words - the entire reason behind my career change - I want to take this opportunity to remind you to find your balance.  For many of us, the aphorism “Work to live, don’t live to work,” doesn’t apply, but it should and we have the power to make the change.

For those returning to the grindstone, and to those who never left, keep in mind that the Earth rotates and the sun will rise tomorrow - your work will still be there to finish.  If it is quitting time, let it be quitting time.  Plan smartly and roll with the punches if things don’t go according to plan.  Remember the why of what you do.  Your business gives you personal days for a reason.  Don’t be afraid to use them.

I am taking some personal days starting tomorrow and have so far done a good job not feeling guilty about it.  I am making sure my ducks are in a row before I leave and I know I will have work to do when I get back, but as soon as I step on that boat, I plan on realigning myself.  My efforts will once again be centered on working to live instead of the other way around.  Take a look at your own life and let me know what you see.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Balancing Act

Recently, tightrope daredevil Nik Wallenda bridged the void between the United States and Canada by walking over Niagra Falls on a taut wire (read about it here).  Millions of people watched the televised feat, caught up in the suspense of one man battling the dark misty night over the roaring falls.  After a thirty minute walk, Wallenda was welcomed to the Canadian side by a crowd of 100,000 cheering fans, accomplishing what no man had done in 118 years.
While Wallenda’s stunt garnered the attention of so many people, every single day each of us struggles to balance, often alone, on our own tight rope stretched over a similar void - unhappiness.  Where the Niagra stunt took thirty minutes to accomplish, our own balancing act takes our entire adult life.
For the last year, I have been adjusting to my newly chosen life as a private lesson teacher.  For the past five years, as a band director, I had certain challenges to my balance - where Wallenda had the dark blinding him, the mist condensing on his rope, and the roaring current pouring over the cliffs, I was challenged by the stress of performance expectation, the day to day business of running a high school band, parents, and the time required to feel accomplished in my efforts.  Part of the reason I stepped off the band directing tight rope was to have more control over the last - my time.  In my new life, this has truly been the hardest challenge.
Band directing, or teaching in general, has a tendency breed workaholics.  Though the work day finishes, many teachers choose to stay beyond regular hours.  As a band director, I had planning meetings, rehearsals, booster meetings, after-hours school commitments, lesson planning, etc.  My associates taught sectionals, ran jazz band and percussion rehearsals, and attended weekend competitions for various band related activites.  The list goes on.  
Stepping out of this life, only having to work the hours I chose to work, I assumed my work-life would balance itself against my personal life on its own.  What I didn’t figure is that I wouldn’t know how to not work.  I worried that if I wasn’t careful, I would succumb to the same routine I experienced as a band director.
This summer, I pledged to make sure to give myself days off.  During the school year, while the hours I worked per week were less, I was working seven days a week.  It has been weird, waking in the morning and knowing I don’t have to do do anything for my job.  Instead, I am able to fill my time with ME.
Finding time for me has settled down the currents battering my own wire.  I am learning how to be “off,” and that every waking minute doesn’t have to be filled with work.  I can still be productive - building personal relationships, working around the house, pursuing individual projects, training for a triathlon - but it doesn’t have to be work.  I also give myself permission to relax, catching up on reading or TV shows I have missed.  Having time for yourself builds the balance we all strive to achieve.
We frequently chain ourselves to our situations, crying about their permanence, but every situation is mutable.  Create the right conditions to traverse the void in your life and ease the buffeting forces threatening to knock you from your happiness.  Balance is possible.
Not to take anything away from Nik Wallenda’s accomplishment, but due to ABC’s insurance concerns, had his balance abandoned him, a safety harness would have caught his falling body before it plunged into the dangerous falls.  We do not have the same luxury.  Find your own balance before life forces you to take the plunge into the unhappiness that waits the unbalanced life.