Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Acceptance: Just three little syllables that mean so much. Although it is more often associated with getting through difficult times, it has been the case for me recently that I have not accepted the easier times as well. Not just merely being complacent or of its more extreme cousin- arrogant, but almost a boredom with the good times. There was an eerily haunting, backhanded urge to stir something up – to expedite anything because I could not accept the peace that I had worked so hard for. The very same peace that I for so long envied in others was now mine, and it wasn’t enough.

Lack of acceptance – patience – humility – gratitude – all that and more. I had not forgotten how it was or how far I have come, but I was beginning to forget how long - how long it was and how long it took. I was starting to internalize external problems. Why? Perhaps because I did not have any real problems of my own. It has been an ongoing part of my life that nothing worth anything lasts for very long. It was, I am beginning to finally realize, a prophecy I personally fulfilled.

This time I didn’t go there, however, I did take a long hard look in that direction. I’d like to say that, realizing I was turning down a spiritual dead-end, I took action to avert disaster, but that is not exactly the case. I did take action – months ago. The things that I started doing even when I didn’t need to, had become habits. Habits, being habitual in nature, are often performed automatically. These habits include the very things I need to do to add the necessary two or three drops of water back into the glass to make it again half-full.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Unwanted Peace

It’s been raining consistently for over an hour now, the wind is picking up and the sky enjoys the combined darkness of a setting sun obscured by rain clouds. The reflection of the rainwater streaming down the window behind me is on my iBook’s screen. It has a surreal transitive effect in that my screen appears to be uncontrollably weeping - or sweating. Perhaps at some level, this is my own reflection as well. My life is an exciting place, yet at the moment – not. I am not lamenting or complaining, just noting how this rollercoaster can never be tamed. I feel as though I am ratcheting my way up yet another long, tall peak that will release me toward either certain annihilation or rejoice – only to do it all over again.

Yet right now, it’s the best I can do to appreciate the unwanted peace. Perhaps this is anxiety. Don’t they have a drug for that? Nevermind. There were so many times in my life when I would have given everything I had for a few seconds of this very place… this very peace. Watching they rain come down and the wind blow. Writing. Reflecting. At peace...

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Butterfly Effect

It is rare that I ever find myself searching for meaning anymore. That is not to say that I always know what it’s all about – that is a rare occurrence indeed. It’s just that on some level, I don’t feel as though I am on this futile quest for meaning. Does this mean that I have found it? I don’t know, however, the sense of purpose that was until recently missing in my life is now present most of the time.

It is not always a pleasant feeling. As the cliché goes, ignorance is bliss. At least it can be. There are situations that life presents me with that demand some action – I not only know that, but usually I know what that action is. Sometimes it is doing nothing. Sometimes it is doing what I genuinely don’t want to do… I know the short-term effect may not be pretty and the long-term outcome is never guaranteed. Alas, enlightenment is not always all it’s cracked up to be.

So it is today that I am presented with a problem that demands action. There will be a showdown with my unemployed, 18 year-old, high school dropout son. I have been encouraging, nudging, coercing, even bribing him to do something. I have led him to water, but I can’t make him drink. There are overtones of my own aimlessness at his age and it is my sincerest desire that he not go through what I did. However, he inherited much from his father and there may be little I can do.

He had a bad day yesterday. He let yet another golden opportunity slip through his fingers and we had words about that. He was involved in an accident that caved in the left side his 1969 Chevy Impala. His car was one of a very few things he really cared about. He and I spent many hours and a lot of dollars making it a much more than an automobile. It is probably going to be totaled and fault has yet to be determined. Even if he is not found to be at fault, the car cannot be replaced and the pay off will not equal the money invested, never mind the blood.

He is not one to believe in… well, let’s just call them “signs.” I wasn’t either at his age. I just thought I had bad luck. The point here is that if he had spent his day doing what he had agreed to do – take the GED test in preparation to enter an auto tech school – that’s where he would have been, not on the road. Because he couldn’t bring himself to put forth the effort required to do it – for whatever reason – he found himself in a situation I assume he could have done without. Cause and effect? Crime and punishment? No, but in the realm of reality and what if, the outcome would have been different.

It took me a very, very long time to realize that I was the master of my fate. When I finally accepted this and learned to work with it, things in my life took a dramatic turn for the better. My hope is that perhaps my boy might be able to see this at 18 rather than 38 or 40… that through my experience he can gain some wisdom. In the meantime, he has some very big hurdles to cross and so do I. Today I will be making some new rules and demands that neither one of us will like.

He called me moments after the wreck happened; he had not even driven off the road yet. He was confused and a little freaked out and he needed his dad. Despite our conflict that morning, there was no question as to my response. I arrived just as the information was being exchanged. Judging by the damage, it’s amazing no one was hurt. As the moment was coming to an end and everyone was going their separate ways, I asked him if he was ready to hear what he did not want to. He turned to me with a forlorn look and nodded. I told him if he were doing what he was "supposed" to be doing, he wouldn’t have been there.

This is where the “what ifs” start. I don’t want to hear it. Here’s the thing: I fully concede that the outcome could have ranged anywhere from the moon falling out of the sky to him striking gold in my driveway had he or anyone else been somewhere else. It’s the butterfly effect argument. “If a butterfly flaps his wings at a specific time in a specific place, the chain reaction resulting from the disturbed air of that flap will radically alter the future.” There is only one fact. If he had been taking the test, he would not have been in that intersection. Fact! Anything else is nothing but pure speculation.

One doesn’t have to believe in anything beyond the here and now to accept the fact that there would have been a different outcome. I hope that maybe whatever was obstructing his motivation to do something positive now pales in comparison to the actual outcome of that decision. It was, once upon a time, nearly impossible for me to make that link. Today, the evidence is overwhelming.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Do Fish Frolic?

I often wonder… Are we the only sentient beings on the planet? I am not speaking of some as yet undiscovered missing link or a being that is so intelligent that it has avoided detection, but rather, have we underestimated the intelligence of other life forms? Fish, for example. Of course, they are not very intelligent by our standards. They do not have, as far as we know, any sort of language to frame or file thoughts with and no means of exchanging ideas. They probably don’t have any ideas. However, we know they have a brain, we know they process information, but do they think? Can they enjoy life? Is there more? Do fish frolic?

I know, I know. It’s finally happened. I’ve completely lost touch with reality. Do fish think? What kind of a question is that? Who cares? That’s a better question! Maybe. Allow me to put some context around this question because, like most of my writing, I am working from a slightly different angle. And yes, I may have lost touch with reality, but I’ll be right back!

Recently I used this space to write about the frogs that have taken up residency in my decorative pond just outside my front door. I told of the marvel of their curious appearance as tadpoles, the disappointment of their disappearance and the elation of their return in the form of frogs. And the croaking! My next frog blog (not my term, give credit where it’s due, thanks Dad!) described the great circle of life and how it had manifested in the neighborhood cat. The cat had established itself in its proper place a few notches higher than the frogs on the food chain.

And today? The frogs have persevered, but are nothing more than co-stars, extras really. Today I introduce not only the fish, but also the tarantula (Webster) and the crickets. Webster came with a cage and is my middle son’s; no, she does not freak me out. She can be handled (I don’t) and only eats live food – crickets. She’ll eat as many as one per day, but can go weeks without. When it has been what I feel is a long enough famine for poor ole Webster, I’ll go to the local PetSmart and buy ten large crickets. They keep them in the fish area…

Stay with me…

While waiting for my $0.15 crickets, I browsed the fish in the tanks. There were salt water, fresh water, tropical, bottom feeders, eels, very expensive and very cheap. The very cheapest were “feeder” gold fish. They are the proverbial “little fish” that the proverbial “big fish” eat. Similar in purpose to the crickets, they just serve a different environment. And at $0.29 each, they’re considerably more expensive. There were literally hundreds of them in a pretty good size tank separated into thirds with different size fish in each part.

They didn’t look happy, although I'm sure they didn’t know it. How could they – they’re fish? At the same time, the wheels started turning and on a whim, I bought ten of them. Now I had $2.90 worth of gold fish in a little plastic bag, right next to $1.50 worth of crickets. Their fates, however, may not be the same. No, I don’t think they knew it.

Ok, ok - the point. When I put the fish in the pond, they seemed to be absolutely jubilant. I’m sure if they had legs, they’d be jumping for joy! At first it must’ve seemed to them like they were going from out of the frying pan and into the fire. But from the fire? Straight to gold fish Heaven. They were darting about, getting their feet wet, as it were! Compared to their most recent two homes, my pond must be like Buckingham Palace.

Are they happier? God only knows. If they are happier, do they know it? I say it doesn’t matter. I think that anything living can experience peace and that it can be experienced in the absence of chaos and uncertainty. Knowing peace and knowing what peace is are not the same. And it could be that the fish, although on the same level as the frogs in regards to the food chain, may not be smart enough to avoid the cat, thus fulfilling they're original purpose. I think, however, they are happier in the meantime.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not – repeat not - one that believes because animals have feelings they should be spared the cruelties of the world. Some animals were put here to eat others. As the masters of our environment, we have been able to civilize much of the brutality of the natural world. And we have taken it to new levels of disgust as well. I am not advocating for “special” treatment towards animals. I would, however, like to finish this mini-editorial with some consciousness raising in that it serves no purpose to be inhumane – whatever that definition is to you.

We seem to believe that happiness is a continuum – that our present state can only be measured by comparison. I too work within this paradigm, but I wonder whether it is necessary. Can I truly experience peace, happiness or contentment without anything else present to measure it with? Do I need past experience to qualify my present? Can there be a state of peace in which one just is and without what one is not? Do fish frolic?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Back to School ~ Back to Basics

Thank God its over. Although it is an overcast, drizzly, cool and overall yucky Monday morning, it is nonetheless a beautiful day! In precisely 7 minutes (Pacific Time) spring will officially be upon us. Ironically enough, spring break at Sac State was officially over 10 hours and 26 minutes earlier. Although each season has certain unique qualities that make it special, spring break is not and does not. There is no longer any holiday associated with it and it has no real ritual or tradition, naked drunken debauchery notwithstanding. It is just another “vacation” right in the middle of the semester that I could quite frankly do without.

There are numerous logical as well as logistical reasons why taking this much time off in the middle of a “project” is a bad idea. One can easily show how the break in continuity has adverse effects on education, point to the irresponsibility exhibited by those with too much “free time” on their hands or argue that having a state facility the size of Sac State laying dormant for a week is a monumental waste of resources. I suppose that one could even draw parallels by extrapolating the state budget crisis and the cuts in funding to education right through to the loss of California’s competitive edge. All these points and more could provide the fodder for a lengthy discussion – or even a shouting match, take your pick - but my problem with spring break and school vacations in general is of a more personal and practical nature.

I think it appropriate that I make clear some qualifiers. First, I am not a kid anymore. I am 43 and have had experience in that “real world” I heard so much about when I was a kid. Although we are presumed to be an “adult” at age 18 (and even more so at 21), when I say “kid” I am speaking more so of experience and maturity than of chronological age. That experience and maturity can come from a variety of places and some portion may in fact be a function of genetics, however, I don’t think it has near as much to do with nature as it does with nurture. And for those not familiar with my previous writing, I am also a full time, second semester junior with a 3.94 GPA majoring in government-journalism at Sac State.

Does school, in general, prepare one for the real world? Does it provide, in addition to scholastic information, the practical experience of what one may expect to encounter upon venturing out on one’s own? Maybe not so much - look at it this way: At the very moment of graduation, the soon-to-be productive member of society has spent more time out of school than in. The percentage of days dedicated to a full time job exceeds by far the percentage dedicated to "full time" educational pursuits up to and including an undergraduate college “career.” For most in the “real world,” there are Sundays, Saturdays, a few holidays and if your lucky, a handful of paid vacation days.

For the vast majority of those in the work force, there is no “winter recess, spring break, summer vacation, Presidents Day, Columbus Day, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Flag Day, Veteran’s Day, this day, that day, any-day-that-ends-in-a-“y” day…” Of course, this is not true for government jobs and especially not true for politicians, but for almost everyone else most days are spent working. This daily dedication towards an end has not even been remotely approximated in my schooling thus far. Even at more than “full time” status (15 units), I’m hardly working on school to the tune of 40 hours per week.

Somewhere along the road, complacency is built into the system. Whenever an opportunity for some time off presents itself – we take it. Of course the administration, faculty, staff and unions love it, but I guess as students, especially university students, we work so hard we deserve it? It almost smacks of elitism: “We, the educated… those of us who are smarter need this time off to refresh our mental prowess. It’s for the good of all of you even if you don’t know it.” The real message is that all we have figured out is how to make our own lives cushier (read lazier) and make you pay for it. And by example, we are teaching that this is the norm, from kindergarten all the way past high school, time is marked by the periods of time off, not by effort, dedication and motivation.

It is rare in this post-industrial age that anyone really enjoys what they do for a living. Compared to past generations, there does not appear to be the same dedication to one’s profession. Finding and answering one’s calling is almost never mentioned anymore. And so it has become – indeed has been for some time – that school is not an exciting part of the academic discovery process, but just another chore from which we need regular, frequent and lengthy breaks.

It surprises me not therefore, that I am in the minority in welcoming the recommencement of scholarly pursuits. I not only do not feel entitled to a week of “vacation” after just eight weeks of “full time” enrollment (preceded by a five week winter recess), but even if by some stretch of the imagination I did feel I had it coming, I would prefer to spend it in school. I am most relaxed, most at ease… the most comfortable pursuing my passion.

Do you ever wonder about people who have spent years and years on the same job and never took a sick day or a vacation day? They didn’t need it! They have found that special place where their job is their passion; they have learned that it is possible to have an outlook that makes this possible no matter what they are doing. It matters little what job they have. They have learned (or been taught) to be grateful at any given moment and as a result they are… happy.

I am not saying we should not take vacations and I very much doubt that spring break or the numerous other school vacations and holidays are going anywhere anytime soon. What I would like to see is an attitude change. I would think that somehow instilling a sense of discovery and marvel – some excitement about doing things many only dream of would in turn generate a true passion for one's chosen profession. I’d like to see less entitlement and more gratitude. I would love to see students not think less of themselves, but think of themselves less. I’d like to see students expect more from the schools and require more of themselves. I want to raise the bar.

If the school schedule on the collegiate level more closely matched that of a real workday or at least required approximately the same time to accomplish on a weekly basis as a 40-hour per week job did, it may produce less expectation and more dedication. I realize that in addition to school, many students must hold down full time, often low paying jobs to make ends meet. If we are serious about regaining the competitive edge, if we really want this state and this nation to continue to be the world leaders we have been so accustomed to, then it’s time to adjust our priorities. I’m not typically one to suggest throwing money at a problem, but with the very long term stakes involved we better throw something at it - and soon.

It took a long time for the public school system to collapse as it has. There are number of factors, many more than I have touched on here. It is financial and it is institutional and it is attitudinal. Enough people are not taking it seriously and the students themselves are among the worst offenders. There is, however, plenty of blame to go around. It can be shared by: Parents; faculty; unions; administrators; politicians and last but far from least – the voters. The power in this country comes from the people – perhaps its time we let those in charge know it.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Of Forks and Roads

I feel the urge to write, but I haven’t got anything pressing to write about. I’ve been staring at my iBook’s screen for a minute or two waiting for some inspiration to hit me – something profound to light up the page. Alas, nothing. So why then, you may ask, am I writing this? Good question and one that will be the subject of the day. Profundity is just around the corner…

It is not uncommon for me to draw a blank when there is nothing of major consequence going on in my life. Regular readers may say, “Hold on, aren’t you working on a bachelors degree? Didn’t you name this blog in deference to the unusual path the last 25 years has taken you? What about the insights, the revelations and the epiphanies?” All true and exciting still, but the novelty, at least in this moment, has worn off. I am not as amazed as I once was. That can and probably will change, but right now, I feel just a little blah.

It sounds a little bit like I am starting to take my recent good fortune for granted. If there is anything that I have learned from my history of successive boom/bust cycles, it is that complacency is an early harbinger of doom. It is the beginning of a progression that leads to feelings of superiority, entitlement, ingratitude, resentment and finally, total and complete self-destruction. It is a road I’ve been down before and one that I’m bound to take again if I don’t proactively prevent it.

So I start off writing with no idea where it will lead me. All I had was an urge with no inspiration, a desire – perhaps it was discomfort. I very well may have confused this uneasiness with some gut level drive or perhaps it is two sides of the same coin. The point, I guess, is that there are many avenues for this emotional energy to manifest itself, not all are positive or, as I know all too well, constructive.

Writing, for me, is an expenditure of energy. Some would call it emotional or mental energy; others may refer to it as spiritual energy. Call it what you will, I am not concerned with semantics. What I am concerned with is not allowing history to repeat itself and – here is the profound part – just by doing this simple exercise, I have already averted disaster. Right now! I am taking measures that won’t do anything to change this moment (I’ll be in pretty much the same place in five minutes as I am right now), but at the same time it has done everything to change it. There is a fork in the road that I am trying to negotiate. Just past the fork, the path will have changed little but down the road – there may be no turning back.

This technique of preventative maintenance works for me and it has become habit. I did not think or realize that the early symptoms of complacency were a great big red flag. Indeed, it was only because I write every day that I sat down to compose anything. I was not looking for answers; I thought I had it pretty good. And I still do – this is why. If I don’t write I don’t think. There is no way I could have processed this feeling through by sitting around doing nothing because I have nothing to do. Now, even before I have finished, I’m energized, grateful, humble, patient and inspired all over again.

I have heard it said that we can start our day over at anytime. This advice is usually given when one is experiencing a “bad” day. It is a tool that is used to regroup, to hit the reset button and get centered again. It is about perception and how we feel affects our reality. The problem, in my experience, is that once a day is bad, it’s next to impossible to change it midstream. However, if a day is not “bad,” but not “good” either, it can be pushed one way or the other quite easily. Guess which way I’m pushing today?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Great Circle of Life

If you have kids that are around my boys’ age, then you probably remember movies such as “The Land Before Time” and “The Lion King.” I don’t know how many times I saw these wonderful movies, but they both spent record time in the my VCR (there were no DVDs yet). This may be true for you too if you are in your late teens and early 20s, have grandchildren in this age group, have nieces, nephews or cousins around this age, or didn’t live in a cave in the late 80s and early 90s. These were made for children but had very mature themes.

The characters in these movies lived in rather harsh worlds. They were youngsters themselves whose innocence of youth was violently disturbed by the harsh realities of life. In both films, the main character had to deal with the violent death of a parent – to not only come to grips with the loss of a loved one, but also survive without their primary caregiver. The evils of the world in all their indifference are strikingly apparent, but so too are the better qualities of humanity. And like any really good movie, good conquers evil in the end.

The similarities between these and other children’s movies of my kids’ time and those of my own youth are uncanny. I remember specifically a classic from the Disney studios by the name of “Bambi.” There were, of course, a number of others, but the theme of “Bambi” has the very same adult elements regarding the hardships, the sadness and the triumph of real life. I can’t say I remember “getting” this when I was a kid, and I don’t know if my kids “got” it either, but I do remember having many a discussion about one of the basics of life – death.
I don’t remember if it is in “The Lion King” or in “The Land Before Time” (it may be both), but one of the phrases used repeatedly is “the great circle of life.” It has to do with a number of ideas: Life is not forever; it is not guaranteed; some must die so that others may live; and even that, though perhaps only implied, death is not the end. At any rate, it is a pretty heavy topic for a child of five, or six, or seven… or 18, or 35… I don’t want to get into a discussion about what happens after death, but rather to reflect; the great circle of life is all around us.

There is a natural order to the world that we, as humans, seem to feel exempt from sometimes. The fact is that we were not always at the top of the food chain. There was a time when we were food. Now that we have dominated our environment, it is rare that we are prey to any but each other. Part of this ascension was the development of sentience. It gave us, among other things, the ability to care, to love and to hate. Although other animals express emotion, none are anywhere near as developed as we are. Death necessarily means more to us and sometimes it is indeed the end of the world.

Recently I wrote of the miracle frogs in the decorative pond outside my front door. I wrote about how the tadpoles appeared out of nowhere and how I sort of grew attached to them. I stopped using chemicals to treat the water to kill the algae and I actually found some tadpole food to feed them with. I wrote about how disappointed I was when they started to disappear and about how I was saddened when they were gone. After some maintenance to get rid of the algae, I didn’t expect to see any more critters in the pond.

The croaking of the frogs weeks later had me absolutely ecstatic! Now, I don’t know if the frogs were my tadpoles or if they just found my pond hospitable, but it was nature taking up residency with me all the same – and I loved it, I loved them. Yea, loved. You kind of get attached to the little buggers. Unfortunately, although they are higher on the food chain than the bugs they were eating, they were not higher than the neighborhood cat. I chased it off, but it was too late – the frogs either became cat food or beat a hasty retreat. The croaking is no more.

It saddens me – a little. No, I am not devastated. And that does not minimize one iota anyone’s loss of a loved one, human or otherwise. One frequent visitor to this blog recently lost her dog and her pain was as real as if it were any other family member – and many pets are. The frogs were not. It was just cool to have untamed nature right outside my front door, listening to their music every night. However, as Little Foot, Simba and Bambi taught me years ago, even my frogs - untamed and natural - are part of the great circle of life.

The frogs, who are apparently smarter than me or the cat, are back! I guess they were just laying low until the danger passed. They are somewhat less vocal, but who can blame them!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Mother Nature

It’s 8:30 a.m., Sunday morning. The temperature is around 40 degrees and everything is wet outside. It rained pretty good last night in California’s Central Valley, which means it snowed pretty good in the Sierras. I love the snow. I always have. It has an ethereal quality. Everything looks fresh and pristine when covered by a fresh blanket of snow. A foot or two of new snow has a quieting effect… Everything is brand new.

There are numerous web cams in the mountains. In the winter, especially during or just after a storm, I’ll check some just to see what I am missing out on living well below the snow line. Even though this is a cold storm and the snow level came down below 2000 feet last night, it is still about 1500 feet above me. I miss living in the mountains – I miss almost everything about it. What I miss the most, however, is the snow.

The winter snows provide a variety of practical benefits. The snow pack represents the water reserves for much of California. It’s like an annual savings account for the state’s summer water needs. This year, we’re going to be all right. It provides any number of winter sports opportunities and the associated tourism. Although the income from tourism drives the local economy, anyone who has lived in a tourist town can attest to the headaches that come with those dollars.

The snow does more than ensure water, generate income or give those winter sports enthusiasts a place to spend their money. It is an attitude. It is Mother Nature taking over and showing us just how insignificant we are. Despite the more than competent efforts of those professionals who deal with the ramifications of every big storm that passes through, there comes a point where the best they can do is wait.

The snow is a great equalizer. It affects everyone in much the same way. It is paralyzing, calming, quieting – it squelches any real movement, it slows everything down. This does not sit well with everyone, especially those who are not used to it. The tourists that come up from the Central and Silicon Valley – the “flatlanders” – are not used to being still. It’s all go go go, and many can find no peace. The moment is passing them by, for if not sufficiently respected and appreciated, the snow is nothing more than just another pain in the...

I think that many of us tend to forget that, as advanced as we are, there is so much greater power than we can even hope to duplicate or control. If a blizzard doesn’t do it for you, try the ocean, especially during a storm. Its power is simply awesome. Try to stop a wave – think of anything that can? When push comes to shove, Mother Nature always wins. Always.

Many of the various natural phenomena are referred to as natural disasters. I beg to differ. They are only disasters when we are in the way. Yes, they’re disasters – human disasters and heart wrenching in that respect, but the planet is simply doing what it is designed to do. And we can’t stop it. And no… God is not punishing anyone. When the planet was formed, it was a very inhospitable place. Through it’s changes over billions of years, it has evolved into a place that not only supports life, but allows it to thrive. Who are we to fight it?

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Spring Break**

Spring break. The term means different things to different people. Many associate it with the drunken debauchery of the collegiate rite of passage. Others may wax philosophical about their past forays into the same passage of days gone by. For still others, when the timing is right, it is the Easter break. For me it has been all of these and more. What this break in the spring semester of school means to me today is… nothing, really.

Ok, perhaps not nothing, however, it is more a milestone – a signifier actually - than an event. At Sac State, the annual spring recess has been traditionally linked with Easter, either the week before or the week after. It has not been called “Easter Break” in quite some time (First Amendment complications), but it “coincidentally” happened to occur at the same time. This year and in subsequent years, the break will only coincide with Easter if Easter happens to be when spring break is – halfway through the semester. With a late Easter this year, it’s not even close.

My purpose here is not to take issue with the nomenclature or timing of this “holiday,” but rather to reflect on what this means in my life. This is not the entirely unique, but unusual perspective of spring break occurring in the life of a 43 year-old university junior. It is not about partying in Cancun; it is not about wondering what to do with my kids while they’re on vacation; and it is not about taking a well-deserved break from the hectic life of a college junior, 43 years old or otherwise. It is actually something far more profound and unmatched in its simplicity.
On my way home from school today, I called my parents and talked to my Dad for a few minutes. Spring break kind of caught me by surprise (I only realized it was upon us earlier this week) and I said that I would be off school next week – I had not bothered to mention it before. He responded by asking what I would do with my time, suggesting, “do some catching up?” I said, “Ya, I guess, but I don’t really have anything to catch up on.” And that’s when it hit me.

I don’t really have anything to catch up on. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. I’m still shocked. I can’t remember ever feeling this free. It brings a whole new meaning to the term “free time!” I don’t even have to do any laundry for at least a couple of days! Oh sure, there are some things that I have been wanting to do when I had the time, but they’re certainly not priorities – I would have done them if they were. And I may or may not get to them. The point here is that I have never been more stress-free – and that sort of stresses me out.

I’m used to being under pressure. Sometimes to do something, sometimes to stop doing something, but I have always felt like there was something hanging over my head – and there usually was. I used to say that I did my best work under pressure. Although there is an element of truth in that statement, most of the time the crunch I put on myself due to procrastination was not of the performance enhancing variety. The reasons for my procrastination are numerous and will not be examined here, but the relief from constantly waiting until the last minute cannot be understated.

There are, I think, a couple of observations that need to be noted. First and foremost is that I don’t have anything pending because I have been getting to what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Sure, procrastination appeared at different times, but not to the extent that everything got into a logjam. That is why I am so utterly free right now. How this happened is somewhat more complicated, but for the sake of simplicity, the second observation is telling.

Spring break and the concurring semester’s halfway point snuck up on me when I wasn’t paying attention. Why? Perhaps because my attention was focused on what was ahead of me. Immediately ahead of me – like today, right now. I have not been looking very far into the future because most of what I have to do today is occurring today. There are some things that take longer to accomplish, but even they can be broken down into one-day-at-a-time pieces. And that’s what I do – today. My goals are set daily and achieved daily and before I know it, the semester is halfway done and I don’t have anything pending.

Everything that I am trying to achieve, no matter how lofty (and getting loftier all the time) happens at exactly the same rate – one day at a time. Everything I want to do in my life can happen if I do the footwork required on a daily basis. Nothing, absolutely nothing that any one day can require of me is beyond my capabilities. If my focus is on a week, a month, a year or five years from now, there is no way I can do all that. It’s too much, but today, just today, I can handle it.

**I don't know any of these people, they're just some pics I unashamedly borrowed from the Web.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


A recent, but dear friend of mine was lamenting on her blog about the sorry state of affairs in the world today. What with gang warfare, sexual predators and lethal religious fanaticism gracing the headlines day in and day out, is it any wonder that even the most light hearted can get discouraged? Although it is true that I don’t really have time to post comments on the many blogs I read everyday, it is also true that when compelled to do so, I’ll make the time. Such was the case tonight.

I felt an overwhelming urge to write a response. Not the kind of compulsion I may get when I read something that I strongly agree or disagree with, not the knee-jerk reaction I get when I read something idiotic, not even the type of calling that comes with sudden and brilliant enlightenment. No, this was different though no less intense. It was more like offering someone my hand to help them get up. More instinct than intellect, it was a default reaction and looking back, I kind of wonder where that came from.

My response did not say she was wrong or mistaken – she’s not. It was not an attempt to sugarcoat anything – there is no way to put a positive spin on the ugliness humanity has produced. It was an attempt to give her hope. The kind of hope that comes from realizing that, as brutish as the world is at times, it is full of good too. I pointed to some of the more recent icons of decency and the humility they possessed as they did their work without need for recognition, though many received more than they bargained for and sometimes paid for it with their lives. And the world is a better place today.

There are those too that we will never hear of. The soup kitchen volunteer, the doctors providing free services on their weekends in under-funded, under-staffed and unknown clinics in every inner city. There are those that donate to charities, provide foster care and shelter battered women. And there are those that lead by example - they do the right thing not because they have to or are supposed to, but simply because it’s the right thing to do.

I told her:

So how do we change the world? Easy! How about from the inside out - one person at a time. Take the moral high road and others will follow. Learn from Dana Reeves who honored a vow most don't - " sickness and in health." Look to Cal Ripken, Jr. whose work ethic quietly gained him the consecutive game record in pro baseball without steroids. Look to the thousands upon thousands who volunteer in soup kitchens, donate blood or even their organs and provide services to those that cannot afford them.

The world is not such a bad place; it just seems that way sometimes. For every tragedy, there are ten blessings - perhaps more and it's not hard to find them. You, Barbara, are a miracle, a blessing incarnate. How do I know? Because you care and it shows. It bothers you to see suffering. You want to change the world. What I’m telling you is that you already have.

And if you're still reading this, I say the same to you – you already have.

Monday, March 06, 2006

What's Right

I am again at my favorite coffee shop enjoying the company of its proprietor and another friend. The rain was coming down in sheets just a minute ago, but all is quiet now. Although life has been a very busy place recently, right now I can take a breather – there is nothing that has to be done right now. Oddly enough, as busy as I have been, stress has not been a factor in my life lately.

This coffee shop provides broadband wireless Internet service free of charge to its customers. It is refreshing when compared to the Starbucks and such with their “Hotspots” and similar pay by the hour/day/month access services. It is this kind of customer service that is so lacking in the world today. Too much, it seams, it’s all about the mighty dollar. That, however, is a rant for a different day. There is no need to spoil a perfectly serene moment with what is wrong in the world.

That leaves, for me, an appreciation for what is right. That’s right, what’s right. I think that sometimes we forget to appreciate the marvel that life really is. I have been known to speak of perspective on this site and today is no exception. Although it is easy to point to someone who may have it worse than me and be grateful in that respect, I think that gratitude can more effectively be gained from an appreciation for what is regardless of what isn’t.

Gratitude by comparison sets one up for the opposite effect – envy. The same means of measuring oneself against another stratifies the outcome in that in one respect I can come out “on top,” in another I will come up short. Then the questions start to come: Why me? How come I never get that kind of luck? Why not me? Indeed, why not? Luck is created, not granted. It is a consequence, not a precursor. It is perspective. All the luck in the world will not make one successful, desirable or happy – it will not give me serenity.

Being at peace is not a result, it is an action. It takes effort to get and stay here. It is an ongoing practice, a skill that can be improved, but like any other skill, it will erode without daily maintenance – without practice. It doesn't serve me near as well to get all sideways and try to fight my way back to this place as it does to do the preemptive work necessary to stay here. It is about keeping a positive outlook even when it is not needed.

I look for the good in everything. This is sometimes not only difficult, but impossible to find. If I end up with no resolution, no peace… if I find that best I can do is fret about a given person, place or thing - some situation, I’ll move on. Spending mental energy to create negativism does not serve me or anyone else. It is a waste of time. At any given time there are numerous things I can do that do have a positive effect. That I can shift gears and arrive at the next positive place takes awareness and an ability – developed over time and with practice – to just step away and get a better look at the big picture and then act accordingly. It takes a different perspective.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Animals in the Clouds

In today’s Sacramento Bee there is an article of compiled stories from the Associated Press called “Strange Stuff – News out of the ordinary.” One of the three included stories is of an image of Jesus appearing on a piece of sheet metal at a hardware store in Manchester, Conn. Hold on – it gets even stranger. That’s right, you guessed it, it is for sale on eBay. At last count there were 32 bids topping out at $1,025.

Here’s the point: First, seeing pictures of Jesus on everything from a piece of toast to freeway underpasses to a piece of sheet metal is akin to seeing animals in the clouds. An ordinary imagination can connect those dots, an active one… well, these recurring stories say it all. More amazing than the “visions” are the reactions to them, to say nothing of their newsworthiness.

The news should not be of yet another sighting, but rather of the irrational hype surrounding it. I try to be open-minded, to understand where another is coming from – indeed, to walk in another’s shoes, but I cannot fathom spending over $1,000 for a $15.49 piece of sheet metal with a little smudged oil on it. I tried, really I did. At least an image on sheet metal can be preserved for… whatever use it may have. A piece of toast will eventually grow into much more than an image of Jesus!

In the final analysis, perhaps the Associate Press should practice a little truth in advertising with their headlines. This is no longer “out of the ordinary.” It is an all too frequent occurrence of what is rapidly passing for ordinary. I can only assume that there are those who are so desperately searching for a sign, some sort of meaning to life, some kind of proof that they mean something that they will grasp at anything that even remotely acknowledges their existence. And of course there are those too that will capitalize on it.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Executive Material

I don' have time to write anything profound today, so I have selected a quote from our nation's chief executive officer. I stumbled upon these pearls of wisdom from the blog of one of my more astute classmates at Sac Sate.

I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily, or, you know, different color than white can self govern.

George W. Bush
Jan. 30, 2004 at the Oval Office.