Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Uninvited

The morning coffee was dark and perfect.

Sunshine? Check!

Family happy? Check!

I was reading my morning digital dose of news, email, and random whatnot when I heard: “You’re getting fat!”


“You heard me; fat!” said the voice with authority.

I looked down. “Well, squishy around the equator maybe, but...”

The morning’s peaceful pace became interrupted with critical self-doubt and now a moment in taking my own personal inventory.

I remember back-in-the-proverbial-day a commercial for a popular breakfast cereal professed if you could “pinch an inch” (around your middle) you may need to lose weight. Well I guess that means that if I can grab a fistful like I was harvesting a Nerf Football from my midsection, I may have issue! The inventory continued for a moment, and then I reflected that I really could care less about the unsolicited opinion of this person, and with my own authority banished him from the room.

(The antagonist was me.)

The episode forgotten for the moment, a few ticks of the clock pass, the day progresses.

The top was down on the convertible as I ventured downtown to stroll among the artists and uninhibited at a local community festival. Reaching in my pocket, I made sure I had the proper supplies before locking up and leaving my car behind for the 5 block hike to the event.

Wallet, keys, iPhone, earphones, and a few dollars spending cash; all this accompanying the freedom of a guy on his day off were plenty enough to satisfy.

“Loser!” said the familiar voice.


“Not only are you are loser, but a broke loser!” The diatribe continued: “Real men work for a living and don’t waste their time here. How many dollars do you have? If you were working now, you would have at least double that!”

“Dad, where in the hell did you come from?”

No Answer.

I realized I didn’t have to listen. The only leverage an opinion has is our acknowledgement of it. I don’t care how he found me after all these years, but all I knew is I did not have to listen. I turned to continue as I had intended. I had what I needed and proceeded through the gates of the festival. The breeze, the sun, the music, and the aroma of fair food were reward enough for my efforts. For now I have enough.

What I realized in the reflection of these two incidents is how frequently these unsolicited and uninvited opinions can surface. The interesting thing is I am frequently alone. How is it these voices enter our space in an attempt at our disruption?

I noticed how often we are subjected to the voices of those whose words have become an anchor. I also wondered why they endure and resurface repeatedly often causing moments of self-doubt. A lot of times I found they come from people who we currently, or once loved and cherished. (Sometimes the onslaught has our voice.) The opinions of those we so feverishly fought to manipulate into a favorable glow that surrounded us. Why are the kind words of encouragement often found at the back of our closets?

Amazingly I have been called: fat, old, worthless, broke, selfish, and a cornucopia of less-than-desirable labels by people or voices that were not even in my presence. I was often unaware or at least at peace with my situation prior to the critique. They were voices from people past, sometimes the media, perceptions of society, and opinions of strangers, loved ones, and ones I desired to love, even myself. They can be also found in magazine ads, billboards, and late night infomercials. They often liked to submit their opinions when I was alone or feeling empowered trying to throw off my balance.

I call them now “The Uninvited.”

I find when I doubt, critique, or argue with myself, I am only allowing these uninvited guests to ruin my party. Any energy we give to these uninvited opinions whether past, current, or conjured simply distract us from our present potential. Healthy self-evaluation is one thing. Emotional shredding is yet another.

Opinions can only manifest themselves when we start to wrestle with them.

Fat? No. Nerfy? Maybe.

Broke? According to whose opinion? I feel like I am still the luckiest redneck at the rodeo.

Who is in the room with you? Were they invited?

I consider myself lucky that now I do not entertain my uninvited guests. I have a huge bouncer at the door called “Awareness” who often is able to keep them at bay on the proper side of the velvet rope. Some occasional sneak in the back door and are asked to leave or are thrown out.

For those of you who are invited: I will be the “squishy” guy with a pocket full of change and his fingers in his ears enjoying himself.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I rule.

I am fortunate. I live in a beautiful neighborhood that has the gift of maturity. In many of today’s “Jiffy Pop” neighborhoods, the tallest trees are often shorter than I am. Often you have to stick around many years, decades even, to appreciate and see shade than can connect from one sidewalk to the other from the trees’ shaded umbrella.

I walk our neighborhood. The neighbors take pride in their yards and I take pride in their taking pride. It makes the walks that much more pleasurable. The city in which I live will eventually get around to the little blemishes that occur from the aforementioned maturity and our harsh Midwest winters. The sidewalks buckle and crack from the trees’ roots claiming victory over man’s attempt to subdue nature’s progression with man-made concrete walkways.

My morning walk allowed me to plod along my familiar path. Down the street, passing ten dwellings, crossing the lane, I continued along passing a field that flanks our neighborhood elementary school. Due to recent construction there, part of the fence parted allowing the trucks passage, and there was a patch of ground brown with dirt where grass should be. Seed was planted but not yet rooted. I could tell the sidewalks were new due to their tell-tale dark battleship grey tint. It was still drying. Square number one was christened with the words: “I RULE” signed “E.B.”

(The E.B. is hard to see)
My humblest response:

Dearest E.B.,

I remember the days of my youth, assuming you are young, unhampered by self-doubt, and all the zest for life a young heart can create. I remember dreaming on the playground, role-playing great adventures. I remember welcoming my friends to join, adding thrill to the adventure. No dream too lofty, no adventure too forbidden.

I ruled too. I ruled my destiny and my soul burned with the promise of my own growth. The world was my oyster, my treasure chest, my love, and my passion. I had not let the voices of doubt become frequent dialogue that could infiltrate my ability to withstand the taunts of the naysayers.

E.B. – indeed you rule, and perhaps you may not know what your kingdom is, but never believe your obstacles outweigh your deserving. Sometimes the king finds his crown at the top of the highest mountain or at the bottom of the abyss. We never know if it is victory or pain that bestows upon us our praise and recognition.

Let your voice be heard above that of simple graffiti. Do not hold back your pain and anger by screaming in your pillow. Let your voice be heard and let it ring far and wide. Only then will your honest and open show of your own humanity gain for you that which you seek. The meek may inherit the Earth, but the noble, wise, and strong are those who often lead. Never forget though if you wish to be revered by humans, you must remain one. Compassion dear E.B.; compassion is essential.

As you age, as you draw nearer to your goal, remember to govern yourself first. Find the joy of being connected to who you truly are. Find the stillness and happiness in being able to enjoy your own being. Trying to seek approval from the masses is daunting, and more so draining if you lose your own identity. Find skill in your own personal management.

Also, practice the skill of silence. Sometimes the best rulers are those who give others a chance to shine. Restrain from being the first to need adoration, and allowing others to bask in the glow of their own personal achievement is truly a noble trait. The best rulers respect their own shortcomings, and surround themselves with those who have mastery beyond their own skills.

E.B., I admit now that life has presented me with a variety of challenges. Some have dealt me crippling blows. However I am still here. I will also admit that my ability to profess that “I RULE” at much at all has dwindled. Maybe I did not listen soon enough to my own advice. Don’t let others try to steal your scepter. When you stop believing you are worthy, others follow suit.

“Rule?” I am not sure if I really want to rule much. However the bold statement of a youth who still has dreams unimpeded and a sense of self-esteem that will leverage his or her dreams into fruition, I bow to you. You indeed rule, and I pray your tenure does not include term limits.

~ T.A.

Author’s note:

I frequently pass this square on my walk. I check for E.B.’s message. It took only a couple of weeks for either nature or the skilled trowel of a worker to erase the message. I hope the enthusiasm that inspired the initial act of graffiti has not waned. I also hope that the only expression of E.B.’s confidence extends beyond vandalism and into positive creation of action that propels this person into that which he or she professed in cement. I also hope the skilled trowel of society, opinion, and unrealistic expectations do not smooth the passion of this youth. Godspeed E.B., and if you are going to mark up any more sidewalks, please use chalk.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

You can't hurt me

Someone flashed me. I didn’t feel a thing...

I spent a glorious day yesterday with a group of friends I do not see as frequently as I would like, but it seems we always pick up where we left off. You know those friends; the ones that you may not see for days, weeks, or years, but some ripple in time does not make it seem as long as it has.

Upon driving the hour-long trip home, I enjoyed a brilliant light show from nature warning us that it was about to christen us with a healthy rain. Soft melodic music set the ambient background as the wind burst in and out of the window with my arm “surfing” the bluster. T’was a blessed evening indeed.

The drive along the dark highway with only the soft “whish” of damp tires was eventually interrupted by civilization. Bright street lamps, glowing signs, and hustle and bustle of people getting where they have to go eventually encroached upon my serenity set to cruise control.

I approached the light; sign said I had one option for left, one for straight/right. You know the one where the arrow goes forward and also veers right in the same vertical column separating our choices. I chose straight/right.

I admit I was not aware of how important the guy was behind me. Nor was I aware of his urgent schedule. I mean I did not plan to be where I was when I was there; I just arrived at that light at that time. I stopped at the red light as my choice, once narrowed from the straight/right to only desiring the straight, halted my progression momentarily. “His Highness” behind me must have desired to go right, despite his cosmic tardiness now placed him behind me. I stopped, coincidentally he did too. He flashed his brights at me. I didn’t feel a thing.

I kind of chuckled as once upon a time, the illuminated “call-to-arms” could have led to a good old fashioned redneck smack down. Not tonite. I now find the folly in what people allow to derail them. No I am not talking about any physical contact as I could see if someone punched you, pulled your hair, flicked your nose, gave you a “noogie, Indian burn, or wet-willie” which could cause a commotion if undesired, but the simple things we have allowed to become unnerving. It is quite comical actually.

“She rolled her eyes at me, can you believe it?!”

“Did you kick her ass?”

“No, but I really wanted to.”

This one I have heard and I am sure somewhere the outcome did transpire into violence.

Who also started the “I will harm you and disrupt you with a loud exhale” tactic? Ever had one of those moments in line somewhere; you cannot make up your mind between the chicken or the beef? I mean a burrito can be a commitment as they do truly stick with you for a while. You pause, you vacillate between the two. Then you hear it from behind you: “Huhhhh!” “Crap, give me the beef.”

Someone ever “raise their eyebrows at you? You know the: “Did they really just say that” with the accompaniment of the “OMG” sneer? Ouch. I mean that one is usually saved for the most severe of social indiscretions. I find it practiced frequently among pre-teen girls. At least in my home.

I find the “Slow-shaking-of-the-head-in-disapproval” is another tactic with its own venomous barb.

“What did I do? I mean I looked over and this dude was shaking his head at me!”

“Oh my gosh man, did you shake your head back?!”

“Damn! I didn’t think of it fast enough.”

“Maybe you ought to take the day off tomorrow to recover.”

All I want to know is how many people have died over time from the simple extending of a digit? Make a fist. Now, extend only your middle finger. Good. Now raise that hand at someone. What happened? I know; can you believe it? The simple extension of a digit. If this ever happens to me, I have fun now. I act as if I did not see it correctly, and nod in excitement mouthing “Thank you”, and raise my index finger as if they just told me “I am number one!” It really frustrates the “Flipper.”

I guess I find these things funny now. These gestures are just that, and have no more power than I give them. What does that say about me and my character to let these simple little movements and behaviors take me down. Funny how they can have a tendency to linger if you let them.

“Remember last week at the grocery, when I was trying to dig the change out of my purse, the lady behind me exhaled rudely?!”

“What? Uh, no.”

“Well, I would have said something if I didn’t have the kids with me.”

Now when confronted with these behaviors, I simply smile. Maybe that is my own passive aggressive retaliation subliminally, but not necessarily my intention. And to you “Mr. Brights-you-from-behind,” if you would like to email me your social and travel schedule, I will try to avoid your chosen path. If not, that will be me smiling at you through the rear view mirror.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Start the day with recess

The onward plodding slowed as we approached the building. Even though we are approaching the final three days of school, it is still school for three more days nonetheless. The weekend’s freedom was coming to an end, and the students in the courtyards and playgrounds started to converge on the doorways leading to the classroom.

As the children tried to find order in their excitement to prepare for their calmer “school-accepted” volumes and demeanor, the teacher emerged from the doorway. Normally she stands back and holds the door for the youngsters, allowing them passage. Today she extended her arms, keeping them at bay and forcing them to retreat and not enter the school room. The kids were shocked at their interrupted routine.

The teacher spoke these heavenly words: “Children, leave your backpacks here on the steps. Today we are starting the day with recess!”

The sky’s parted. Heaven appeared before all. Once the statement sunk in, my son raised his hands and shrieked as if exalting to the witness of a biblical miracle. It was the kind of shriek that I know windows shattered, car alarms went off, flocks of birds flew away, dogs started barking and forest animals jerked their head in startled amazement.

What a pleasant surprise!

Okay I am forty five years old; I still want to be able to start my day with recess from time-to-time. Maybe I can. I guess our interpretation of recess has maybe changed. I am aware that if I were to join the kids on the swings in the morning that is, well ...just creepy. I find that recess is simply a pleasurable break in the routine. “What” the break encompasses is subject to personal interpretation.

Upon reflection, I find that I have been finding ways to incorporate “recess” into my schedule recently; especially in the mornings. Since I often hit the ground running due to my obligations to my kids and having to get them off in time, I have found a greater need to regroup. Adhering to a strict and tight schedule can be something to admire, but to fill every moment of every day dedicated to a specific task can wear a body thin.

I have added 15 minutes to my alarm clock in the morning. I find that this is ample amount to be able to sip down a mug of coffee, catch up on some news, emails, or light headlines prior to getting the kids off.

I walk my kids to school in good weather. A little exercise never hurts anyone. On the way home today I had a pleasant conversation with the neighbor dog. It had been a while. It was good to see Scout again.

I also find that my music player is a great way to achieve recess at any given moment. My trips to the grocery, walks in the neighborhood, and other simple tasks take on a more serene feel in the presence of music. There is just something calming when life has a cool soundtrack. I have a tendency to look at things with more of a “cinematic appreciation.” I star in my own movie.

I guess for us adults, we need to find things that allow us to disconnect from the grind and recharge, if only momentarily. We often exclaim that we “do not have the time” for simple diversions, however we often find time for the “Today Show” or the “Bachelorette.” Hours and hours of it. I remember in school as a child, recess was often fifteen minutes long, and was a most treasured fifteen minutes at that. Try to retrieve your precious quarter hour my friends.

As we grow on and grow old, we mustn’t drift from the idea that recess is exclusively for children. Children are just wise enough to expect it as a nourishing part of their day. Of course we may look foolish if we were to run, arms a flailing, screaming, and twirling in circles; but wouldn’t it feel great?

The business man with his tie extended from his neck in the centrifuge of a carousel, giggling with eyes closed hoping to not throw up. Maybe using his briefcase as a way to slide down a hill. Perhaps the female executive climbing a tree in her skirt, not concerned with social inappropriateness and brushing her hands off on the front of her readily available blouse. Restyling hair for the afternoon would be simply brushing your bangs out of your face on the way back to the boardroom. Okay maybe not. But it is fun to think about, and creates a comical mental picture.

Remember recess is where we exercise a little, temporarily lay down the routine, thumb our noses at the schedules, and simply “be.” We play, we live.

Simply we must remember to just take a few minutes. This gift we give to ourselves allows us to better give to others. We can start our day with recess. We can fit in some fun, some activity, some exercise; something that recharges and prepares us. We just have to prioritize it.

So twirl on my friends, run with arms in the air, and scream. And before anyone else says it: “Dibs on the swing!”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bad decisions (can lead to good places)

Man I have made some crappy decisions in my life. I have a few examples in my wardrobe as we speak. Perhaps the Wendy’s combo I had for lunch was not the greatest choice made by a guy with high cholesterol. My credit card balances reflect an epidemic of other retail disasters and lapses in wise decision making.

My behaviors in the past have also shown a deviation from brilliance and mindfulness that at times still rear their head to remind me that I have not always been a straight shooter. Some of my relationships current and past also have a few scars. I wish I had some emotional Bactine for some of those decisions and damage.

I also had spent time in years past enhancing my moods, perceptions, as well as social enjoyment by the application of “mind-altering” substances. Sadly things like Dos Equis beer did not necessarily make me "The most interesting man in the world."

I remember a shtick where Bill Cosby was talking about people taking drugs. He said he encountered a person’s defense of this behavior saying: “I take drugs because it intensifies my personality.” He said, “Yes, but what if you are an a**hole?” Good point; taken and noted.

Now I play for the “other team” and am a proud participant in sobriety-based endeavors. I have a stack of little coins showing certain milestones, as well as the “big trophy” of the fact that I feel better, am healthier, appreciate life more, and have positive or improving relationships for the most part. The old behaviors shrink in my rear-view mirror.

Do I hold ill-will to those who partake? Nope. If you reach out, I reach back, that’s the deal. (As it should be in many areas of life.) I don’t proselytize in any of my belief systems. As I have learned: I try to have people appreciate what I do through attraction, not promotion.

In recovering from the grips of the negative behaviors I mentioned above, my brethren and I are presented with a series of “12 steps” to break free and move beyond the troubles associated with such a lifestyle. I have heard the words: “Foolish, worthless, cult, it doesn’t work, yadda-yadda” pertaining to the groups program. You be the judge.

I have found the principles outlined invaluable to not only recovery, but in life in general. They are simple, compassionate, reverent, and progressive steps of behavior that allow one to grow and move beyond those things that bind us.

I do not want a copyright issue on one hand, but more so I am going to “paraphrase” the steps meanings so one may see the usefulness in other areas of life. I will not number them as I think it is a collective achievement. For me it has been likened to the action of spokes on a wheel that support forward movement and momentum, as opposed to start at the beginning, move to the end then complete. Sometimes we need to be reminded of what we already know. Regularly.

Here’s the nutshell, but presented in a way that shows its value as a philosophy. You insert the particulars as they may pertain to you and your life:

There comes a time when we realize we are powerless over “things, people, and circumstances” and we lose our ability to manage how our lives unfold accordingly. A realization occurs that there is “Someone”, or “Something” beyond ourselves who may be able to help, who may have a solution, a compassionate guidance to restore us to where our lives return to a quality state. Once we decide to go beyond ourselves and our self-will, and place our navigation in the divine guidance we so desperately need in this moment, we start to make the turn. We do not have to “define” our faith as much as “invest” in it.

We need to look at ourselves, look deep into our souls and determine what is nourishing us, and those things that are toxic; in all areas, thought, word, and deed. We may find that sharing our pain with those we trust on this Earth and beyond is cleansing and releases the burden we hold inside taking the space for healing. It is okay to reach out.

If we seek guidance; guidance of a divine and pure nature, a beacon that guides us to where we should adjust our rudder, we can then realize a new path has been embarked upon, and old ways and maps can now be shed. Sometimes we must ask for help in not only shedding the past behaviors that led to us veering off course, but to continue to shine light upon the path we now tread.

Nothing is more crippling emotionally and spiritually than words left unsaid, personal and emotional damage left unidentified, apologies withheld, and avoidance of accountability. Make it right my friends. Regardless of the outcome, a dialogue can lead to forgiveness; whether it be of others or yourself. Remember to do this often; time doesn’t always heal all wounds.

Being able to regularly turn inward, allows us to stay connected outward. Prayer is when we speak to the Divine, meditation is when we listen. It is a dialogue at times. Both are necessary and healthy to staying on course. Once we find a steady course to follow, we can share the light of our beacon and behavior to allow others to venture alongside us. They can find solace in the calm space between our wake as we venture forward enjoying the same gesture of those who tread before us.

Pretty simple.

I wish there more groups or meetings for people who simply needed a friend, a place to vent, one of a spiritual non-imposing nature to allow others to not feel alone and become recharged from time to time. One that does not judge welcomes all when they fall, and whom you could call if you stumble. A place where many beliefs, socio-economic statuses, races, creeds, and ages can join, if only briefly to celebrate moving forward and shedding our emotional shackles. I have a few suggestions. I am sure you do too. Keep your arms open wide.
I just pray you do not have to go through the “initiation” many of my friends did to earn their seat in these meetings. You are still free to apply a few of the things I mentioned.

I also know that nowadays when things are rough, and not going my way, a milkshake can be quite intoxicating too, and afterwards you won’t wonder:"How the heck did I end up here?"