jimowenswrites

Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Born on Third Base: An Excerpt from Staring into the Abyss

I’d welcome your feedback–especially if you find any humor in this.  It’s an early chapter from my forthcoming work–Staring into the Abyss:  One Man’s Journey from Faith to Freedom.——————————

Let’s face it, being white in America is nice.  In fact, it’s pretty much the best, especially if you’re a dude.  And it’s even better if you’re tall.  No.  this isn’t a book about white privilege.  Nor is it about virtue signaling.

But, it’s clearly being tall, white, and male, is the backdrop against which I’ve lived my life—if you don’t count the fact I was a fat pre-adolescent kid.  After eating my body weight in Ho-Hos and Twinkies in the Maine winter of 1968, I was fortunate the gene pool from which I sprang launched me out of the husky pages of the Sears catalogue into the athletic (tall and skinny) section by by the time I was thirteen.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

What’s really important for you to know at this point is that I wasn’t born into a particularly religious family.  Although my parents tell me, much to their chagrin, I learned to whistle during the middle of a sermon at McIlwain Baptist Church sometime in the middle 1960s.  I’m sure I was bored and wanted to make the best use of my time given the fact I’m a bit of a (reformed) Type A kind of guy. Before I was seven or eight, I think we went to church regularly, but I’d say we had more of a God and Country sort of belief system rather than an evangelical one.

I do know we were members of what a friend of mine, the daughter of a United Methodist pastor, called the C and E Club.  Our most consistent church attendance after 1968 was on Christmas and Easter.  Although I do think I went to Vacation Bible School as a kid.  My guess is I had as hard a time sitting still there as I did just about every where else.   And I suspect my teachers felt a compulsion to pray for my parents’ patience and wisdom.  They should probably have done a bit of fasting too.

As a child, we said the blessing (what Southern folk call giving thanks) before our family meals.  My go to blessing was, God is good. God is great.  Let us thank him for our food.  Amen.   Not very original, I know.  But better than something that begins with good food, good meat…

At bedtime, I said my prayers.  Now I lay me down to sleep, If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.  Looking back, that’s kind of a spooky thing for a kid to pray before nodding off.  And on one occasion, when I was around five or six, I remember being terrified over the notion I might die in my sleep.  It’s my first recollection of any existential angst, that is, if you don’t count the times we ran out of Ho-Hos.

Fortunately, my mother comforted me, somehow assuring me I wouldn’t die.  She was, of course, bluffing inasmuch as she couldn’t possibly have known I wouldn’t succumb to some mysterious contagion during the night.  I think bluffing is a skill she developed at Gulf Park College for Women in the middle 1950s where she learned to play poker well enough to come home and “clean out” her father and other men in a game, leading her father to lament, “I didn’t send you to college to learn how to play poker.”  (Although, I’m sure he was secretly proud of her.) Now, you’ll note there wasn’t much mention of Jesus in my prayers. But they were said with the sort of childlike sincerity and reverence you’d expect of a boy and his family in the Bible Belt.

Such reverence was particularly on display whenever paternal expectations called my father into the role of offering a prayer. There were a lot of thous and thees, and wherefores and arts when he offered thanks before a meal or on some other occasion.  He prayed in The King James, so to speak. Which, makes sense given the fact that was what the Bible he was raised reading and probably heard quoted in his experience at the New Canaan Baptist Church.  And, as I once heard an elderly woman say eschewing newer translations of the Bible, “If the King James Bible was good enough for the Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”

We moved around a bit during my childhood.  And as we did, we tried out new churches along the way.  One was the Penny Memorial Baptist Church in August, Maine which my Dad described as one that looked for reasons to keep people out rather than offer much grace to sinners.  Jesus may have hung out with them, but not these Baptists.  And I’m guessing my Dad may have suffered same harsh judgment of Biblical tax gatherers as he was still in his first decade of employment with the IRS.

Another church we visited, this one in Louisville, Kentucky, was in a drive-in movie theater turned house of worship—which gives a whole new meaning to church theater, I suppose.   But this was the early seventies, the age of facial hair, wide ties, and novel approaches to sharing The Word was just taking root.  On chilly Sunday mornings, we would drive in with other worshipers, romping over the asphalt humps, roll down a window and hook the speaker into our door.

We listened as the pastor shared the gospel from a scaffolding below the giant white movie screen. It was like listening to an otherworldly voice crackling through space and static.  “Oww –ett—us—ray.  R –faddah—ooo—rt’nnn—evan—owl-lowed—eee—thy—ame.”  I suppose my parents liked that place since any attempts at whistling in the back seat of their Pontiac wouldn’t disturb others or embarrass them.

After that attempt in Louisville in the early 1970s, I don’t recall any serious attempts at churchgoing.  When we moved to Buffalo, New York, though, we lived in a largely Jewish neighborhood, save for a large Catholic family down the street.  When those kids came filing out of the house, it seemed to me, an only child, like one of those tiny clown cars at the circus from which a dozen clowns emerge.  There were seven kids.

Paul was the oldest, followed Mark, John, Mary, Ruth, and, wait for it, Bruce.   Poor kid.  One wonders if they took a look at this pink and screaming newborn and thought, “you know, he looks doesn’t really look like a Biblical name kind of kid.  Let’s call him Bruce.”  Being Catholic didn’t seem like much fun to me.  Those poor kids couldn’t come home and watch Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows.

But Judaism, now that looked cool. We lived in Buffalo about the time most of the young men were turning thirteen and having the Bar Mitzvahs.  I thought conversion might be a good idea given the wonderful parties and amount of loot my buddies were hauling in, but the thought of learning Hebrew after school fairly well dampened my enthusiasm to convert—I wasn’t gonna give up Dark Shadows, not even for the promise of gifts and parties.

At some point in my adolescence, our Sunday mornings became a time for the three of us to have a leisurely breakfast and for my parents to read the paper while I caught up Peanuts and The Phantom in the funny papers and Parade magazine.  That time was something of a ritual for us—a time for being together, catching our breath from the week’s activities, and to let the redemptive smell of freshly fried bacon, baked biscuits, and percolated coffee permeate both the air and our souls.

Such rituals, I learned, were important and I keep many today, beyond what I learned from my parent’s practices.  As I’ll share later, I think they’re a part of a familial and cultural fabric which pay rich dividends for us all.

*****

Regardless of our church attendance or how my father prayed, my childhood was idyllic.  I was afforded all the opportunities of being male child with loving, white, middle-class parents who valued getting a good education.  I got my values from them in a sort of Ten Commandments kind of way.  Our version of Christianity was the sort that focused on not lying, stealing, or harming others, as well as on helping other people. I don’t recall much coveting going on and we were big on not committing murder or taking the Lord’s name in vain either.  Though I will tell you my Mom had a knack for PG-rated profanity.

Both of my parents held Master’s degrees.  My mother’s in education, my Dad’s in business.  Which is pretty remarkable given they were raised in a mining community in rural Alabama. My Dad plowed behind a mule as a child, drove a school bus on dirt roads, and delivered groceries from my grandparents little country store.  And I’m the first male in many generations of my family to have never worked a day in a coal mine.

Unlike many other children, I’ve always known my parents loved one another and that they loved me unconditionally.  When I celebrated my 59th birthday my Dad was in the hospital.  My mother felt bad about not having a gift for me or providing any kind of acknowledgement I’d made another trip around the sun.  I’m her favorite child, you see.  So she took the time to right a handwritten note to tell me how much my birth had meant to her.  But Mom is a straight shooter who added, “Don’t get me wrong, there have been times when you were a real pain in the ass.”  It’s a note I will keep the rest of my life and smile in the memory of her big heart and personality.

It was these parents who taught me to be honest, to be kind, to study, and to work hard. And when I said I’m my mother’s favorite child, I was being honest.  I’m hers and Dad’s only child—as far as I know.  Given the fact I’m 6’7’’ now and was a rather large baby at birth, I’m not sure Mom could have endured another set of shoulders like mine passing through her birth canal.  The fact that I was a colicky baby probably had something to do with their decision not to have any more children too, as I’ve recently learned my cranky infancy made her search out whatever tranquilizerswere available in 1960.

But even with all that, as a child, my dreams were their dreams and so when it came to whether it was chauffeuring me back and forth to summer basketball camps or going off to get a private liberal arts education, they sacrificed for me in profoundly Christian ways.   Looking back, I realize hardship and fear weren’t really a part of my experience.

I was born on third base.

Vigil

Through tired eyes

a glimmer still,

his furrowed brow,

his iron will.

 

I watch his chest

both rise and fall,

his expansive world,

becoming small.

 

We share some laughs

of days gone by,

I see him grin,

and wonder why.

 

Those blinking lights,

the greens and blues,

all dancing ’round

in shadowed hues;

 

What lies before

And what’s far past,

now matter not,

it went too fast.

 

All’s been said

What needed so,

when bells toll,

I’ll let him go.

 

His tender hand

now held in mine,

his gentle touch,

like sips of wine.

 

In weary watch,

my mind so clear,

I wipe my cheek

a trailing tear.

 

All that matters,

Is our now,

I’ll be alright,

he’s shown me how.

The Miner: A Brief Existential Tale

With each hammering blow, flecks of stone and earth fled the miner’s violence, skittering across the ground around his feet.  He drove the shaft deeper and deeper into the darkness, resting only when the exhaustion overtook him, only when the strength was gone from his bleeding hands, when he could no longer endure the agony of his quivering arms and trembling shoulders. Only when the throbbing in his back was no longer a wolf wailing in the distance, but stood before him, head low, a ravenous, snarling beast, would he flee into restless sleep.

But even in his sleep the miner toiled.  He had become Sisyphus straining against the boulder’s weight.  Restless dreams of unconscious longing drove him as he pushed the cart upward toward the surface, the faint light above growing brighter with each step. The rhythms of his pounding heart and labored, disembodied breath paced him, until he would finally stagger into the white glare of the sun. Sometimes, in momentary blindness, he would stumble, catch himself, avoiding the untimely tipping of the overladen cart.  Other times, though, he would fall onto his already bruised knees, and once more find himself reloading the cart with the detritus of earth and rock.

Spread throughout the shaft, at seemingly random intervals, he would drive rough hewn timbers into the ground, bracing joists above them, reinforcing the ceiling suspended inches above his head.  The smoldering kerosene laden torches he hung throughout the shaft did little to cast off the darkness, spewing as much oily gray smoke as light.  The torches cast macabre shadows throughout the mine.  Occasionally, the miner would believe he had been joined by some wayward, fellow treasure-seeker, as he watched his own shadow dance before him. There were even times in the echoes of lengthening shaft, he would hear voices, someone calling to him from the surface, beckoning him to give up his labor, to abandon his quest.

But the miner would not—could not—heed their pleading.

“Just a few more feet,” he would mutter. “Just a few more.  Then I can rest.”

*****

The miner could not recall the exact moment his quest began.  There were times when he had pondered it, this longing for treasure.  Perhaps, if he had not found some success in his labors along the way, he would have given up long ago.  But he had found a few gems, some gold coins, and even a diamond or two over the years.  Never enough to make him wealthy, to be sure.  But enough to keep him going.  Enough to fuel his thirst, rather than to slake it.  Yes.  There were moments of clarity when he understood his madness.  But he had learned the skill of prevailing against the lurking sanity with which he wrestled.

He felt the earth trembling before he heard the sound of earth falling in the shaft far behind him. This had happened before.  It was nothing to concern himself with.  When the ground below him began to shake more vigorously he braced himself against the wall and waited.  A small fissure opened above him. The earth had righted itself once more, as it always had.  Realizing he had been holding his breath, he released it, eagerly sucked in another.   An eerie calm settled over the shaft as the final bits of debris fell from the precariously hanging ceiling.

The miner bent to retrieve his shovel and felt a single cool drop of water fall lightly onto the back of his neck.  He looked up at the fissure and saw more gathering at the its edges, moisture clinging to the rocks like a small child clings to his mother’s neck.  Another drop, this one larger, landed on his cheek, carving a path in the dirt and sweat of his face as it ran down to his jawline. Then the drops became a steady trickle.  He cupped his hands beneath it, letting it pool in his hands, then splashed his face and neck.  What good fortune, he thought.  From this fountain he could wash, drink, and renew himself more quickly for his work. Once again, he set about his task.

Lost in his effort, the miner had not noticed the water pooling at his feet until it had soaked through his well-worn boots.  His thin socks and worn leather boots were little match against the invading water. But he stayed focused, keeping at his work.  It wasn’t until the cart required another trip to the surface that he found himself concerned about the rising water.  This won’t do, he thought.  I will need to find some way to divert the water, or to seal the fissure when I return. But before he made his next pilgrimage above, he would need to set another torch.

In the small confines at the end of the mine, the torch illuminated the face of the walls better than he had hoped.  He gave his eyes time to adjust, taking a moment to survey his work.  That’s when he saw it—the walls of the mine twinkled like stars in a spring Montana sky.  He removed a dirt sodden kerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his burning eyes.  Then the miner took his hammer and chiseled away at one of the glistening pieces of the wall, dislodging one of the glistening chunks of material.  He strained to focus is eyes upon it, to examine what now lay in his scarred and calloused palm.  His pulse quickened.  He would need the sun’s light to be sure, but he was almost certain.  Finally, after so many years, after so much back-breaking toil, he thought, this what he had been searching for.

*****

His trek to the top of the mine seemed interminable.  He had needed stop and clear several piles of debris from his path, remnants of the earth’s shudders several hours earlier, before he could continue.  Now seeing the daylight from above he quickened his pace. The light strengthened his resolve, fed him like a shoot of grain freshly emerged from a farmer’s field. He pushed forward, finally rising into the  late afternoon sun.  The miner pushed the cart a dozen yards or so from mouth of the shaft.  Not far enough to warrant tipping it, but far enough to justify reexamining the glistening piece of ore he had dislodged from the wall after months of labor.

The miner sat down on a bench he had crafted long ago.  One that he had moved from the mouth of shaft after shaft, the bench that had become an alter of disappointment again and again.  But this time, perhaps, it would become an alter of celebration. Gingerly, he removed the piece from his kerchief from his pocket into which he had folded his find. He wiped his hands on his pants leg as his eyes fully adjusted to the afternoon sun and unfolded the cloth.

His hands were trembling, his heart full of hope.  He fought to steady his breathing.  Then, as if pulling back the veil to this Holy of Holies, he pulled back the final fold of the cloth, revealing what he had hidden there.  The miner gasped.  He took it into his fingers, holding high into the light.  The stone glimmered with promise.  He rose, moving to the cache of supplies a few feet away, removing a small pane of glass.  The miner took the stone and scraped it across the glass, etching a deep, perfect cut across the glass.  Then he did again.   He returned the stone to the kerchief and returned it to his pocket.  Then he carefully examined then pane of glass.

Running his thick index finger across the etching, the miner, enraptured in the joy of his precious find, did not hear the rumbling in the distance—did not feel the movement of the earth below his feet. The only trembling he felt emanated from within him. He tried to still himself, tried to think what he must do next.  Long ago he had staked his claim.  Perhaps he should sell an interest in the mine—get some help with reinforcing the walls and ceiling and widening the shaft. He could buy some new tools.   His mind was racing—even as his body was weary. He staggered, shaking with from exhaustion and hunger.

Then the realization of what was happening spread through him. He struggled to remain standing as great waves of earth moved below him.  It was too much.  He fell.  Rose. Fell again.  Finally, he gained his footing and raced toward the mouth of the mine just in time to see the belching maw of dust and smoke, like a dying dragon of yore.  In abject horror, he saw the shaft collapsing into a tomb in which his treasure was now buried.

*****

Opening his eyes, the miner wasn’t sure if he had slept or fainted.  Wiping his face, crusted blood on his left temple he understood.  He pushed himself to his feet and found water he had stored with his cache of supplies and drained several helpings from a battered tin cup.  The miner patted his left pocket and felt the reassuring bulge of the only treasure he had rescued from several hundred feet below him.

He climbed a few dozen yards up the slope before him, saw the sun rising in the east, and surveyed the panoramic glory of the mountains surrounding him. Then, reluctantly, he let his gaze fall across the expanse of his claim, witnessing the destruction the quake brought.  One by one, he checked them.  The abandoned shafts dotting the mountainside into which he had dug had all been destroyed. A few, as if some kind of cruel deceit of the gods, teased him with varying sized apertures into which he might still squeeze.  But the one from which he had just emerged, the one which held the treasure he had sought for so long, was utterly impassable.

The miner stood in silent contemplation.  He heard the scree of a hawk in the distance—nature herself seemed to be mocking him.  In the distance, he saw storm clouds gathering. With time, the winds and rain would wash away every sign of his labor.  He heard a voice on the rising breeze.

Later, he would wonder about that voice.  Had it been nothing more than the hallucination of a mad man? Some atmospheric anomaly carrying a voice from miles away?  An apparition?  Whatever it was, he decided, didn’t matter.  In time, her words had brought him comfort.  She had revealed something deep inside of him.  Something buried like the treasure at the end of the final shaft he had dug.

*****

It had not been easy to come to grips with her revelation.

The overwhelming truth of what she had revealed made him sob for several days when he first heard her. But with time, even as his chest heaved in grief, he knew the comfort—the peace—would come.  The miner had long ago learned the difference between regret and grief, so he allowed himself the grief.  He let blade of truth pass through him again and again, each wound cutting away a bit of the not-so-benign tumor growing upon his heart.

The miner was clutching it when he died, that gem he had recovered the day the earth sealed the passageway to his dreams shut.  The gem had become a talisman to him—a thing to remind him of what he was and what he would become.  His death had been far easier than most of his life, but in the final moments before drawing his final breath, the miner was at peace.

While the gem might have secured a lavish tomb for him, he had never entertained such folly.  He was buried in a simple coffin.  Atop his grave was a simple granite headstone inscribed with an epitaph of his own choosing.

Here lies a simple miner who found his treasure. 

 

 

 

 

 

Was it just a dream?

I hear the voices,

these echoes in the night,

in the darkest moments,

still waiting for the light.

 

Thoughts across my mind,

stirring me once more,

of laughter and the smiles,

they shake me to the core.

 

Sorrows now forgotten,

But memories still remain,

Fill this empty vessel,

Now wash away the pain.

 

Wonders of new hope,

or shadows of a scream,

sometimes I still wonder,

was it just a dream?

We cannot pretend

We cannot pretend,

My broken-hearted friend,

This garden we must tend,

The hope I want to lend.

What grace can I extend?

What message can I send?

And surely not pretend,

Has now come the end.

 

There must be some way,

Something I can say,

To make a better day,

To mend this hopeless fray,

And make you want to stay,

We’ll smell the fresh cut hay,

Find more time to play,

Quiet hounds that bay,

 

No more say goodbye,

Please,look into my eyes,

For we must simply try,

Not understanding why,

Forsake this futile lie,

The day is coming nigh,

For I will help you fly.

A hope that will not die.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She sits alone

She sits alone,
In a hollow place
A single tear,
Glides down her face;

She sits alone,
In shadows gray,
Wishing for
Some different way;

She sits alone,
And wonders how,
She might make,
A better now?

She sits alone,
This life so long,
A distant voice,
A mournful song;

She rises up,
Then plants her feet:
What lies ahead,
What pain to greet?

She rises up,
Despite the fear,
Her shoulders back,
The dawn is near;

She rises up,
Wipes tear away,
In this place,
She cannot stay;

She rises up,
Shrugs off despair,
This weary warrior
Of life’s affairs;

She takes a step,
Into the light,
Bids adieu,
This painful plight;

She takes a step,
Two, then three,
Walking on,
How can this be?

She takes a step,
Four, then five,
Just grateful that,
She’s still alive;

She stands alone
With head held high,
Her soul renewed
Her battle cry;

She stands alone,
A fragile peace,
Her burden lighter,
Sorrow released;

She stands alone,
Though griefs remain,
But smiles a bit,
Wash away the stain;

She sits alone,
In a hollow place,
Still some fears,
This better place.

Performance Matters: Moving the Needle of Productivity

As we’ve discussed here before, we really only have four options for creating change in our world. We domoreof the things we are doing.  We can do lessof them.  We can do them better or we can do them differently. Sometimes, doing things differently can have a dramatic and immediate impact on our productivity.  But doing things differently, may only require a modest change in our approach to becoming more productive.

Many of us start out days with a simple list of things to do.  And as the day grows, we find ourselves adding to that list until it seems impossible to do them all.  Yet we just continue trying to trudge through those tasks.

Ugh.

But there’s a better way to move the dial of our own productivityand it is one that will feed our sales effectiveness, the productivity of our teams, and make us more effective leaders.  After you’ve made your list of things to do for the day, look over it and decide which two or three items move the needle in terms of gauging your success.  Then make sure do those things first.

Let’s say you’re an account exec with sales goals.  You probably have to write reports, enter data in to a CIF system, and maybe even fill out an expense report. You also have to follow up with clients, reach out to new prospects, and stay abreast of market and product matters. But what moves the needle in terms of reaching is your relationship with people, right? So every day, before you do anything else, identify and block time on your calendar for making those calls, sending those emails and seeing those people.

Once you’ve done so, list who—the most important prospects and clients—you need to talk to and what you want to accomplish before you connect.  Invest a few minutes in this kind of preparation and you will find yourself more effective in those interactions and reaching your goals more consistently.  And don’t let yourself connect with anyone other than those most important prospects and clients.

To make sure you protect this time for interactions–building relationships–with your prospects and clients, ask your team—including your boss—not to interrupt you while you’re on the phone, sending emails and working through this process.  You will be surprised how much they will appreciate your focus and how willingly they will respond if they know you will be undistracted when you do interact with your team once you’ve completed the tasks that move the dial in terms of your sales effectiveness.

Next week, we’ll talk some more about we can capitalize more on how doing things a little differently can lead to big gains in productivity!

If you’ve found this information useful, encouraging or might see a way we can improve it, please let us know.  And if you thought it was encouraging, forward it to a friend so they can subscribe. If you want to find out more about how Performance Strategies Group helps organizations sharpen their sales skills and processes, builds more self-aware and resilient leaders, or equip more productive teams, find us online at www.performancestrategiesgrouponline.com, or call Principal Consultant, Jim Owens @ 256-426-0305.

Performance Matters: The Elixir of Productivity

Just about anyone focused on productivity—their own or a team member’s—is looking for hacks, some shortcuts that will improve performance.  We build efficiency processes, hold meetings, establish sales goals, and set and reset staffing levels all in the hopes of achieving more.  Much of which just grinds the joy out of our work and lives.  But what if there were an almost magical means of doing so?

Many of you have already decided that’s impossible.   But the science is in. And it’s both simple and compelling.  If you want you and your team to be more productive, be happy.

In his 2010 bestseller, The Happiness Advantage, Harvard-trained psychologist Shawn Achor details countless pieces of research indicating productivity and achievement are by-productsof happiness, not the consequence of it. In his book and in his wildly popular Ted-talk, Achor demonstrates how our perspective impacts accomplishment. Among the most compelling items in the book is the Losada Line.

In short, the Losada Line indicates that it takes roughly “three positive comments, experiences or expressions to fend off the effects of one negative one…(raised) to a ratio of six to one and teams do their very best work.”   There’s a boatload of academic research behind this phenomena, and Achor’s work is rife with practical, effective ways to raise your own level of happiness, as well as that of your team.  And while being happy is simple,it isn’t easy.   You have to work at it.

But why not give it a try.  Achor doesn’t suggest we shouldn’t chant empty affirmations. Rather he gives us a means to invest in ourselves and others.  He gives us the research supporting meditation, kindness, anticipation, and many other tools that can actually make us happier and thereby more productive.  Investments take time to generate a return, so why not grab a copy of Achor’s book or watch his Ted-talk with your team.

You’ll be glad you did.

If you’ve found this information useful, encouraging or might see a way we can improve it, please let us know.  And if you thought it was encouraging, forward it to a friend so they can subscribe. If you want to find out more about how Performance Strategies Group helps organizations sharpen their sales skills and processes, builds more self-aware and resilient leaders, or equip more productive teams, find us online at www.performancestrategiesgrouponline.com, or call Principal Consultant, Jim Owens @ 256-426-0305.

What Have We Learned, People? Metaphysical Reflections on 2018

A few days ago, a good friend asked me if I make New Year’s resolutions.

“Not anymore,” I replied. “The last one I really kept was in 2013.”

She asked what grand achievement I’d accomplished that year.  “Craft beer,” I said.

The look on her face—maybe the same one you have now—told me I’d need to explain.  I made her wait though, because I was downing chunks of freshly-baked bread like a seal being fed from a bucket.  No, I did not slap my flippers.  I don’t have flippers.  (But if I did.)    Oh, yeah.  You’ll have to wait to learn metaphysical truth behind my success for a bit too.

So it’s January 1, 2019. And while everyone’s thoughts are turning toward Jenny Craig, Keto-diets and how much it costs to join Planet Fitness, my thoughts are on the past.  I’m asking the question.

What have we learned, people?

Permit me to share a few of my own lessons.

Number One:  There’s music in the voice of a friend—and you can sometimes hear it in a text.  I laughed a lot in 2018.  Cried some too.  But whether I’m laughing or crying, more and more, I recognize how vitally important my friends are to me.  My male buddies and I toss barbs at one another (like guys do) and discuss things like the roots of consciousness and artificial intelligence (usually while sipping good bourbon).  I can hear them laughing at—um, with me—even now.  And, I can hear the laughter of my female friends—one in particular, who is always smiling, even through the heartache of this past year.

It’s not really a resolution, but in 2019, I want to hear their voices more often.

Number Two:  Take a risk.   I did something stupid in 2018. (Probably several things!) I quit a perfectly good job. At 57, I somehow found the courage not so much to leave something as to pursue something I’d always wanted to do professionally.  Yes, I have a plan—but I’m still figuring out what works.  I have a little money in the bank, but not remotely enough to consider myself retired.  The risk I’ve taken has resulted in some victories and some disappointments.  And I probably should be more anxious than I am about succeeding.  But for a long time now I’ve suspected (and now I know) that successis over-rated.  Yes, I need to pay my mortgage.  I definitely have to pay Blue Cross.  But where I live and what my income have precious little to do with the sense of harmony and contentment I now enjoy.

I don’t really have a resolution here, either.  But hopefully, I can keep taking risks.  Early indications are they’re worth it.

Number Three:  Don’t feed your dog hot wings.   I know what you’re thinking.  Oh, no he dit’nt.

Let’s just say, it wasn’t deliberate.  Shooter, my three-year-old Pointer, has the capacity and determination to sniff out a stale Cheeto from thee-hundred yards.  (But he can’t find the damn chew toys I give him).  So when I tell you he helped himself to about a half-dozen boneless wings I inadvertently left on the kitchen counter, trust me: I bear only limited responsibility for what the ensuing events.  (Thank heavens these weren’t the nuclearspice version.)  You’d think Shooter would have known to stop eating when his eyes began tearing up.  Or when his tongue began to recognize this might have been a choice leading to A Series of Unfortunate Events.Not my boy.  He’s no quitter.  I’ll spare you the details except to say he spent the next several hours pacing like a ten-year-old boy who’d missed a dose of Adderall.

So I’ve learned several important things in the past year.  If I’m honest, I’m still learning several lessons.  But back to the metaphysical truth of 2013.  My resolution that year was to drink more craft beer. Which I did.  Not because I advocate drinking, though I think Benjamin Franklin might have been on to something.  But because drinking more craft beer meant I was probably spending more time with friends, less time taking life so seriously, and generally enjoying a fairly simple pleasure.  That was actually harder than I expected.  And though I’ve cut back on the craft beer (carbs are from the devil), I’ve gotten a lot better at living the theory behind it. Which seems pretty metaphysical to me.

Whatever 2019 brings, I’ll see you at Planet Fitness soon.  I’ll be the one with wing sauce on his fingers.

Sometimes, when it’s quiet

Sometimes,

when it’s quiet,

when I sit and listen,

really listen,

hearing the barking dogs in the distance,

really hearing them,

hearing their yips and wails and pleading,

their unbridled pursuit of some unimaginable thing,

I wonder;

 

Sometimes,

when it’s quiet,

when I sit and listen,

really listen,

in that liminal space between waking and sleeping

hearing the electric hum of silence,

and the sounds that rattle and echo through these halls

I wonder;

 

Or sometimes,

when it’s quiet,

when I sit and listen,

really listen,

hearing the throbbing of my heart,

noticing the whoosh of blood coursing through me,

feeling the rise and fall of my chest, my lungs stoking the fire of life,

I wonder;

 

Sometimes,

when it’s quiet,

if only in my heart,

when I sit and listen,

really listen,

to the sound of far-off thunder,

when I hear the growing rage of an approaching storm,

hearing the wind rushing through the trees, faster and faster,

waiting on the next brilliant, terrifying flash of lightning to race across the sky,

I wonder:

 

Sometimes,

when it’s quiet,

when I sit and listen,

really listen,

I wonder,

 

I wonder why,

why I don’t sit and listen,

really listen.