Thursday, March 31, 2016

Spring Training

It’s the beginning of baseball season, which means, especially here in the Valley of the Sun, Spring Training. From what I can find online, it looks like fifteen different teams all play their Spring Training games in the Phoenix area, so it’s a busy baseball time for us. It’s a good time to take the family to some fun games where they don’t have quite so much on the line, and just have a good family outing. Tickets are usually cheaper than they will be during the regular season, and the weather is much more agreeable. It’s a great time for practicing, and for watching people practice.

There are so many good allegories in there, I don’t even know where to begin.

Everything we do in life requires training to be done well. From learning to walk to complex equations, we begin with not knowing how, to learning the basics, to adding onto what we have learned, to practice, practice, practice. It always comes down to practice. Even if you nail it the first time, you still have to keep doing it to make that first time stick. You have to do things over and over again until what was unknown becomes natural. Practice does not always make perfect, no matter what motivational posters might have you believe, but practice is necessary to most forms of improvement, which includes any possibility of getting anywhere close to perfection.

You can’t just practice in the privacy of your own closet either. There are external factors that cannot be simulated. Unless you’re doing something “for real” - under the conditions to which they apply, including all of the random variables that usually go along with that - you’re not getting the full experience, and your practice is incomplete. This is why you’re major sports programs all have pre-seasons and pre-season games that are open to the public. They are practicing with all of the additional factors in place, as close as possible to what they will be on game night.

Most major sporting activities actually began as methods of practicing for other real-world activities, usually involving hunting or fighting. If I remember my history correctly, baseball is actually one of the few exceptions to this theory, but the idea is still sound. Practicing for sports and practicing for “real life” aren’t all that different. In fact, the same root principles apply no matter the reason for practice. Repetitive activity that focuses on the basics first leading up to as close to the real activity as can be accomplished under practice circumstances, all in preparation for doing it live.

You also want to get in as much practice as you can get while you have time to practice. That is one of the big reasons why we have so many Spring Training facilities here in the Phoenix area: practice here doesn’t get canceled due to weather. Aside from the extreme heat during the summer, our weather is usually pretty mild, and we don’t get much in the way of storms outside of monsoon season, so teams like the Cubs, or the White Sox, or the Giants - all of whom might have to face a variety of unpredictable weather at this time of year in their respective homes - can get a full season of practice in and not have to worry about starting their regular season behind the curve.

We usually have mild seasons in our lives as well. They may not be as regular or as predictable, but it’s even more important to take advantage of them because you don’t know how long they will last or when the next one will roll around. When the storms are blowing, it can sometimes seem like the next mild season will never come around (it usually will, just like it always has before, though it can sure be hard to tell), but if you have taken full advantage of the previous mild seasons you can be prepared. Get your practice in while you can so that you are ready when it’s game time. Use the time of good weather to get ready for the bad.

Whatever you’re practicing for, though, the best lesson to take from Spring Training is this: Have fun! People play baseball because they love baseball, hard work and all. Yes professional ball players make a good living too, but you can bet they didn’t even start down that road without loving the game first. Practice can be hard work, and practicing for a highly competitive professional sport can certainly be harder work than anything I am used to doing, but it rarely seems like work if you enjoy what you are doing. Life is meant to be lived. We could argue about the details until the sun burns out, but surely we can agree on that much, at least. Life is meant to be lived, and living is so much better when you’re having fun. Get the most out of everything you do, and everything you do will lead to a good life, even when it’s hard work. Have fun.

Practice the skills you need to lead a good life. Practice as often as you can, and under as realistic circumstances as you can manage as often as you can manage it (after you get the basics down, of course). Take advantage of the good times in your life in order to prepare for the struggles. We play games because they teach us things we need to know in life. We play games to have fun. There is no “but” in there because I think having fun is one of the most important things we need to learn about life. Work at making it work, but have fun with it and it won’t seem like so much work.

Baseball season is under way and the Spring Training games are going strong. If you have the opportunity, go join the crowd and root, root, root for the team of your choice. They have quite a few more options than peanuts and Cracker Jack these days, but fun is always on the menu. Live your life, enjoy your life, and always learn from what you’re doing. That’s part of your training.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Spring Cleaning

Spring has sprung, and with it comes the annual tradition of dusting behind the dust bunnies and rediscovering all of those things you meant to throw out last year but somehow never quite got around to it. It’s time to throw open the windows and air out the spaces that have been closed up through the winter, and maybe find some new spaces that have been clogged up with collected clutter. Spring Cleaning is the annual ritual that many of us use to get right with our local environment and personal spaces, but it’s also a good time to get right with spaces rather more personal than behind the fridge. While you’re putting some extra polish around the home, this is also a good time to let a little extra sunshine into your soul and clean out the closets of your mind. Clean out some of those cobwebs and let in some fresh air.

Let’s start with an easy one: What did you eat yesterday? What did you eat last week? When was the last time you gave serious thought to your diet, and whether or not that diet is meeting your needs? I’m the last person to give you a list of healthy things to eat and unhealthy things to avoid eating, but I will say that being aware of these things and acting in reasonable manner on this awareness can be of great help to almost every other personal goal you might have. Don’t starve yourself, and don’t deprive yourself, but do take care of yourself. The human body is one of the most complicated machines on the planet, and keeping it running in smooth operating condition over the long haul is not likely to happen by accident. You don’t have to plan everything out in the smallest details, but you will have to put some thought into it. You don’t have to make perfect choices to make good choices, but you do have to make choices. Try to pick the better choices. If cheating occasionally helps you to stick to the better choices more often then cheat sometimes. It really works.

While you’re cleaning up the menu, you may want to consider taking a look at the exercise routine as well. Diet and exercise go hand in hand, and neither can really do the trick alone. Just like with diet, you don’t have to be perfect to get good results. You just have to do something. Any bit of exercise you do is better than doing none, though do make sure that what you’re doing is good for you. Don’t try to do more than you’re ready for, and don’t try to do something complicated or potentially dangerous if you don’t know how. Don’t hurt yourself trying to help yourself. If all you can manage is to take a walk every day then take a walk every day. You’re not training for a triathlon here. You’re just being a little better today than you were yesterday. It may be necessary to find a teacher, or a group activity you can join. Group activities are also great because you can encourage each other, and mutual encouragement can be the difference between sticking with it or not when you’re new to exercise. Be encouraging, and definitely accept encouragement.

As you consider whether or not to sign up for that Beginner’s Group Course on Synchronized Swimming, it’s also a good time to consider the groups of people who are around you every day. This part can be complicated, because there are so many moving parts involved, but are you surrounding yourself with the right people. Are they helping you to be a better person, or are they dragging you down to disappointments you’d prefer were left in the past? Are you helping them to be better, or are you just coasting along thinking they make you look good? You never need an excuse to say No to toxic people, but you do need to make sure you’re not the one being toxic. There is almost never anything simple about human interactions, and the more humans interacting the less simple it gets, but the general trend should be ever upward. Expect some twists and turns, and even a pothole or two along the way, but you might want to reconsider your traveling partners if you’re not at least averaging your way toward the goal.

Have you checked your goals lately? I’m not talking about the Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years goals. Those goals are between you and your employer, usually, and I tend to find them pretty dull. (I’ve yet to convince anyone that, “Still getting paid,” is an appropriate answer, but I keep trying.) I’m talking about your goals for who you are, who you want to be, and how you want to change the world. Life is all about growth, so are you still growing? Have you learned new things that can open up new avenues of growth? Have you learned something that can help you with that one condition in your local environment that is a thorn in your side? We all have one, and they each require different skills to address. Make sure your goals are still pointing you in the direction you want to go, incorporating those new skills you have picked up along the way, and taking corrective measures regarding those thorns.

Sometimes, though, the only thing holding that thorn in your side is you, holding both hands on the thorn and keeping it gripped tightly to your side. While you’re cleaning up your inner territories, make sure that you’re letting go of things that can only cause you pain. Letting go is, surprisingly, one of the most difficult skills we can learn, and we often have to learn it in new ways for each thing that we need to let go. Just when you think you have the whole idea mastered, here comes another problem that you’re gripping tightly before you even realize that you’ve done it. Sometimes you can’t change the environment. Sometimes you have to change you, and sometimes the only way you can do that is by just letting go.

Open the windows, sweep out the corners, light a candle or two. Out with the old and … Well, maybe just out with the old. Sometimes it’s good to bring in the new, but make it because it’s actually good to bring in the new. If bringing in the new isn’t good for you, don’t do it. Maybe it’s just time to declutter, get a little more space to move around in. However you do it, whatever works best for you, while you’re airing out the house, take some time to air out you. Get in those back rooms you haven’t checked recently and toss some junk out onto the recycling heap. Give yourself room to grow, and make sure you get plenty of sunshine and fresh air for healthy growth. A little spring cleaning is good for the soul, and you might even find that you do it more often. Once you get in the habit, keeping it all clean becomes a breeze.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Spring Fever

Remember this past winter when we ran several articles about the return of spring and the rebirth of the sun? Look around. We made it. The sun has risen and spring is here again. The days will get longer, flowers are blooming, and life is showing it’s greenery. This is the time of renewal, new love, and spring fever.

Spring fever is that time traditionally associated with the beginning of spring when restlessness and excitement for the future kicks in. For some people, life takes on a glittering, popping sensation, almost like static discharge, where everything crackles with barely repressed energy, and there is a feeling that not just anything but actually everything can be done, so get out there and do it. This can be a great time to grab that momentum and push forward, but there are a few things you may want to keep in mind.

First of all, despite bubbly feelings to the contrary, you can’t actually do everything. No one can. You still have limitations, just as you always have, but maybe it’s a good time to take a look at those limitations, test the boundaries, so to speak, and see if they are real. You have limitations, but maybe you don’t have quite as many - or quite the ones, or quite as severe - as you had believed. Maybe you can do more than you thought, and this is a good time to find out, but it is not a good idea to cling to false confidence, any more than clinging to false limitations. If you don’t acknowledge that you have limitations then they are going to come as a shock when they smack you full in the face, and they will. That is inevitable. That shock can cause more harm, as it can set you back and make you fearful of trying again in the future. Test your limits, use your newfound momentum to see how far forward you can go, but do not forget that you do have limitations, so that you can respond reasonably when you meet those limitations. With a reasonable response, you may even find a way around them.

Remember that the wheel keeps turning. In the long run, spring will not stay any more than winter did, so plan accordingly. Enjoy the sun and bask in life renewed, but don’t fool yourself into believing that this is permanent. Life is about balance, and that includes balancing work and play. What you have in surplus today, you may have none of tomorrow, so set aside some of that extra against the hard times. This is also one of those limitations to remember, though this one is universal. Refusing to acknowledge that winter will come again is going to bite hard when winter comes again. Such an attitude can undo all the positive gains you may have made during the spring, if you are not careful. Be careful. Don’t let spring fever make you crazy. Remember that “this too shall pass” does not just refer to the bad things in your life. All life is temporary, so enjoy it while you can, but expect change so that you are not caught off guard when it happens.

For some people, this can be the hardest time of the year. New life, new birth, new possibilities just accentuate old failures and old heartaches. People who have gotten stuck in that particular rut look upon the joys of spring as a reminder of the things they believe they cannot have. According to the CDC, it is during the late spring and early summer that suicide rates are at their highest. Take care of yourself, and take care of your loved ones. Be familiar with the warning signs of suicide, and be observant for those signs. Don’t take anything for granted. If you are someone at risk, talk to those who love you. Explain your concerns and accept the help that they will offer. Don’t be embarrassed. This is your life we’re talking about, and it’s worth the effort. If you know someone at risk, listen. Be the friend they need rather than the friend you think they need. Pay attention and love the ones you love. This is their life we’re talking about, and it’s worth the effort.

Keep these things in mind, but keep one more above all: the sun has returned. Life is renewed. Be renewed along with it, and take joy in the rebirth of the seasons. Get out and walk among the trees. Stop and smell the roses. Let yourself be renewed as well. There are so many things we don’t know about the world around us, but there is one thing I am sure of: Life is meant to be lived. Get out there and live it. Enjoy life, and enjoy yourself. You are life. Life is you. It is all around you and within you, so let the renewal of spring work its magic on you.

Spring fever can make everyone a little bit crazy. That’s fine. It adds some spice to life. Feel that energy crackling through you, and use it to propel yourself forward. Don’t let it blind you to things you need to remember, and you should be fine. Enjoy the spring. Enjoy life.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

TGIF 3-25-16

TGIF! It’s been a busy couple weeks, adjusting to changes at work, with more changes right around the corner. It’s an ongoing reminder that change is the one dependable constant in this universe. Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. No matter what the mathematicians might tell you, this is the universal constant. You can’t stop change. You just have to roll with it. “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance” [Alan Watts] has never been more true.

Updates! Do I have any updates? Okay, let’s be fair. Do I have any updates to share? There are always updates, but some you don’t care about, and some I wouldn’t care to share. So, on the sharable front:

Nothing has really changed on the foster case, but I think that actually qualifies as a good thing. It means I’m not being asked to repeat something I’ve already done multiple times. All of the appropriate paperwork has been filed (and is probably evolving entire generations of dust bunnies on someone’s desk), so it’s just a waiting game now. Out next court date is not until June, so I don’t expect there to be any significant news one way or another before then. The at-home portion is going great. I was just telling our foster daughter yesterday how proud I was of the progress she has made in so many areas in recent months.

As always when this subject comes up, I will point out again that there are so many children in need of good, loving homes, and so many systems in need of serious overhauls. If you have the ability, the space, the love, it would definitely be fantastic if you would look into how you can help, but never forget that you also need patience. Even when they work well, these systems don’t actually work well. Some just work better than others. Even beyond needing patience to work with whatever issues the child or children bring to the table (and those can be plentiful, with more than plentiful reason), you will often need mountains of patience to work with the people and programs that often don’t seem to have as many valid excuses. Do help if you can, though. It’s worth it!

Family adventure. We’re going to see Batman Versus Superman this weekend at the local IMAX theater. I haven’t seen a movie in IMAX since the Lord of the Rings movies, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in 3D. This should be an adventure no matter how it works out, but I have high hopes. Unlike some critics, I have one overriding criteria when it comes to movies: Did I have fun? As long as that answer is yes, everything else is a bonus, and I fully expect to have fun at this one. I’ll let you know.

Speaking of having fun with science fiction (We were, weren’t we?), I just watched the short film Code 8, and I highly recommend it. This is a labor of love being put together by Stephen Amell (of Arrow) and Robbie Amell (of The Flash), so you know it has a good pedigree right there. The 10-minute short stars Robbie, and deals with a world where 4% of the population has some degree of super powers, and the discrimination these people face because of these powers. Though he is not in the short, the Amells have stated that Stephen will be in the feature length movie they hope to spin out of this. Check out their campaign on indiegogo and help make it happen. We could always use more good science fiction.

Hope everyone has a great weekend, and we will talk to you Monday. Namaste.

Watch Code 8 below, and remember to visit their indiegoogoo campaign to make it happen.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Walking Away

Raise your hand if you’ve ever dreamed about dropping everything and just walking away from it all. Oh my! Look at that ocean of hands. I’m not talking about frustrated, children screaming, the boss is on your case, Calgon, Take Me Away moments that many people experience several times a week. I’m talking about standing on the curb, watching a bus go by, and counting out the cash in your pocket to see if you have the money for a ticket without making an extra stop. I’m talking about sitting at that intersection knowing that turning right is the way you go every day but turning left … goes everywhere else, and being unsure which direction you’re going until the blinker turns on. I’m talking about, “If I don’t tell anyone my real name and only use cash …” I’m talking about that moment when the coin is spinning in the air, and it’s even odds on which way you go when it comes down.

There are less hands now, but I suspect that are still quite a few. Especially if you know no one is looking. There is no judgment here. I know that you’ve never told anyone, not even the people closest to you, but you’ve seriously considered it. I promise not to tell on you, but can I tell you a secret? You’re not alone. It’s a more common thought than you might realize. In fact, many of those people you’re not telling have probably considered the same thing, and just as seriously have you have.

I think most of us face that moment at least once in our lives. Personally, I’ve been there four times that I can remember. I’ve actually done the whole sitting at a stoplight thinking about turning left instead of right for so long that traffic piled up behind me. I’ve been stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire and thought, “If I just stick my thumb out going that way instead …” I once got as far as walking to the next town over (about fourteen miles at the time) and introducing myself to people I met along the way under a fake name. Then of course there was the time I walked away without realizing it, the time I woke up in a field with no memory of how I got there. The one that started most of this journey. Believe me, I’ve been there. I understand.

I’ve also talked with enough people under enough circumstances to feel pretty confident in my prediction that this is a common occurrence. Maybe not so common to the extent that I have taken it, but common just the same. I truly do believe that most people face this kind of crisis at least once in their lives, and what makes it worse is that we don’t talk about it. It’s embarrassing. If you’ve actually considered quitting, that’s a sign of weakness, and we don’t share weakness. Nevermind that this is nonsense. So much of our culture is nonsense, so why should this be any different? Most of the people who have considered walking away didn’t do it, so must have been stronger than all that in the first place. Even if it were a sign of weakness, though, when we’re feeling weak is exactly when we do need to share. That’s the whole point of sharing! That’s what it’s all about, helping each other stand through periods of weakness.

Facing a crisis is nothing to be embarrassed about. If you’re living, you’re going to face crises. Some you’ll sail through with relative ease, and some will give you a beating. The more crises you face, the more likely you are to face one the tough ones. That’s just the law of averages. Tough crises are going to happen, but tough crises can be good teachers. Sometimes the most important lessons are the hardest to learn. Sometimes you may have to face the same crisis more than once to get the lesson learned. If we can talk about these things, it might go better. We may be able to share notes and get a better handle on what works and what doesn’t work.

I won’t tell you not to be frustrated. That’s one thing that doesn’t work. You’re going to be frustrated, and trying to pretend otherwise won’t make things any better. In fact, pretending usually ends up being even more frustrating. There is nothing harder to live up to than a fake smile you know you’re faking. The more you pretend the more you’re concerned that people know you’re pretending, and now you’re frustrated because you couldn’t fool people into believing you weren’t frustrated, and you have more issues that didn’t even exist until you created them. When it comes to dealing with a crisis, adding to it is usually not the best option.

You’re going to be frustrated. Own it, acknowledge it, and move on. It’s neither here nor there. Frustration won’t help you get through whatever is frustrating you, but it won’t stop you either, unless you let it. Don’t let it. Take a deep breath, tell your frustration hello and goodbye, and get down to business. More often than not, it’s what you were going to do anyway, so skip the middle and just get to it.

If you’re standing at that intersection, understand that you will be the same person whether you turn left or you turn right. Any change you make going one way, you can also make going the other. Sometimes we have to start over - we have to go where the job is, or we have to get away from unhealthy influences, or any number of other legitimate possibilities - but if you have a support system in place, it’s best to use it. You have family and friends who want to help. Let them. Share with them. You never know, but you might be helping them at the same time. Remember, anyone can face a crisis, and sharing is often how we overcome them.

If you feel an overwhelming urge to walk away, try walking away from bad habits. You can change who you are without changing where you are. I know how tempting that road is, but it’s not usually the answer you’re looking for. Travel, go everywhere, see the world, but don’t go because you’re looking for yourself. You’re not out there. You won’t find what you need out there, because what you need is already within you. You can embrace it anywhere, and once you do embrace it, you can go anywhere with a free heart and an open soul. The more peace you have within,k the less location matters. Once you find your real inner peace, you’ll be at peace everywhere.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Making Time

I have been recently losing time again. A few seconds here. Two or three minutes there. Nothing major, and nothing that I’m exactly worried about, but it’s a thing, and not really a pleasant thing. It’s disconcerting to be standing in the kitchen and have to take a minute to remember why you’re there, but it’s nothing like standing in a field and having no memory of how you got there. It’s more a reminder than anything - funny as that may sound - and sometimes we need reminders. Sometimes I need reminders, that’s for sure, even beyond the occasional memory loss issue.

There are, of course, any number of causes for minor memory loss and disorientation, and yes, I can hear the jokes about my age even as I am typing this, but, in my case, it’s a negative coping measure for stress and depression. I say negative because it’s not helpful, by any means. It doesn’t deal with the problem at all - it is, in fact, quite specifically trying to not deal with the problem - but it’s part of the coping process in the same way that a painkiller can be part of the injury coping process. It doesn’t help with healing, but it tries to numb the pain so that other things can be done while the healing is happening. It is very inexact, but pain relief always is. “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning,” is more about letting some time pass so that things might work themselves out, and hoping for the best. The pills are more so you think you’re doing something than anything else.

Time is the great equalizer. It’s the one thing we all have, and it’s the one thing we need for every other thing that we want to have. Time does not heal all wounds - that is a remarkably foolish aphorism - but time can put most wounds into perspective. In time, we can learn to do almost anything, and that includes learning how to cope with wounds that we thought were fatal. It is interesting to note that a common expression for memory loss - especially the kind of memory loss associated with fugue states - is “losing time”. Time is something we have in only a finite quantity, and there is no known way to get more. Losing it is expensive. Using it, though, is what it’s all about.

I lose time because my depression and anxiety pile up and my brain tries to deal with the mounting pressure by not dealing with it. Some people drink to forget. I forget to forget. Just like with drinking, though, there are better ways to handle the situation, and these small memory lapses can serve as a reminder that I may not be using those better ways as well as I could. I can’t give you a roadmap for navigating these kinds of issues, because it’s different from person to person, but I can give you some general ideas. That is one of the main purposes for this blog. Another main purpose is that writing this blog, or something like it, is one of the general ideas. You need to give voice to what you’re feeling and to what you’re thinking, and then you need to give voice to your solutions. Don’t let one side of your mind monopolize your time, but don’t cut it off either. Let it have its say. Just make sure you get a rebuttal.

It’s all about making time. Make time to listen. Make time to speak. Make time to act. Active participation is the key. When you’re dealing with depressive issues, just letting things be will usually result in things going downhill, in losing time. You may not lose time the same way that I do - the symptoms are different from person to person as well - but you’ll lose time just the same. You won’t be able to use your time productively or to your benefit, which amounts to losing it. Entropy is the natural progression of all things, and this is no different. If you want things to get better, you have to take steps.

That is not to say that you have to take all of the steps at once, or even all of the steps at all. You have to act, but you don’t have to overdo it. Keep walking forward, but stop and smell the roses along the way. That, too, is part of the active process. By taking breaks, you are reminding yourself that you can take breaks. By smelling the roses, you are reminding yourself that there are roses to smell. These are critical parts of the healing process. You have to know that it’s okay to not be perfect, and you have to remember that there are good reasons to get better.

In the end, you need to remember that your time is your time. It’s yours to spend, it’s yours to live, and it’s yours to enjoy. It’s also yours to manage. When it starts slipping away from you, it’s up to you to get it back. Take a walk, listen to a song, meditate, pray, visit family. Your inner self knows what it needs. You just have to quiet the roar long enough to hear it. That’s not always easy, and it may never get easy, but it can get easier with practice. Time is the key and the lock. Sort that out and it gets a little easier to manage.

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

We Are All Family

When I was growing up, I thought that other people had unusual families. I would see people who didn’t get together very often, didn’t have each other’s backs, or didn’t do so many of the things that I took for granted, and just assume that there was something missing from their lives. I still believe they are missing something, but I have learned as I got older that it was my family who were unusual. Those with the missing pieces are apparently far more common. Mind you, I’ll take my unusual family over the more common sort in this comparison any day of the week, but you can’t correct a problem without addressing it as it is. My family is weird, but I don’t believe they should be, not because they shouldn’t be how they are, but because how they are shouldn’t be weird.

My grandmother passed away with no will. My grandfather had passed many years earlier, and their home was now empty, with a lifetime of accumulation to assess and no clear direction for how to go about doing so. The local members of my family came together, cleaned up the home one last time, and proceeded to share out the property with each other based on who needed or had special interest in what. There were no fights or arguments that I recall, just family helping family and taking care of what needed to be done. “You guys have a new baby coming, so you need this bed.” “You have a special memory with this table, so you should take it.” That sort of thing was how it all went, and then final arrangements were made for the house, and we all helped each other to move on.

At around the same time, I knew someone else whose grandmother passed away. In that case, the grandmother had also been guardian of minor children because their mother had passed away a few years earlier and their father was unavailable in another country. An uncle “inherited” the situation (I never did learn if that was a legal inheritance or just someone “stepping in and taking charge” as these things sometimes happen), and things went downhill from there. The person I knew, who was legally an adult by a matter of days, was put out on the street and the minor children were put into an orphanage. The very idea blew my mind. I couldn’t even wrap my head around the idea of turning away family like that.

That second example is probably quite a bit more extreme than most people will ever encounter, but it illustrates the idea I’m trying to get across. There is a popular children’s movie that says, “Family means nobody gets left behind,” but there are far too many families in modern society who don’t actually live that way. They leave people behind on a regular basis, and think nothing of it. They don’t answer for it when called out on this behavior, because they don’t get called out on this behavior. Too many of the people around them believe and behave in the exact same way.

If we won’t even take care of our family, though, what chance do we have for taking care of anything else? Family is right there. It’s up close, immediate, and personal. You can’t ignore it without doing so on purpose. Taking care of family is how we learn to take care of anything else.

Think about it. Like most things in life, we learn in stages, and the stages grow as we grow. The infant wants everything, and has no concept of there being anything other than me, what I want, what removes what I want, and what provides what I want. It’s a simple equation of for me or against me, with no shades of grey. As you get older, you learn about sharing. You learn how to make distinctions between what’s mine, what might be mine with the right conditions, and what is not mine. As you take it a step further, mine evolves into ours, and possibilities open up like a flower in bloom.

In the same way, the first person you learn to look after is yourself. You’re not very efficient about it, but you are very direct. You scream, you cry, you throw your bottle on the floor. One way or another, you make certain that attention is focused on getting what you need. You get older, maybe you have a little brother, and you learn about taking care of someone close to you. Watching out for each other, you can watch together. You begin the valuable process of learning that there are legitimate needs outside of yourself, and you learn how to apply that knowledge to people around you. As you get older still, that circle gets larger, and you learn about more complex social interactions, about larger groups of people working together and helping each other, but it all began with what you learned as a family. Without that beginning step, the bigger picture is so much more difficult to see.

If family means that nobody gets left behind, aren’t we all family? Contrary to popular expressions, after all, it’s not a rat race. You can’t actually get ahead by leaving others behind, not in the long run anyway. No one is an island, and no one can do it all alone. The more we all work together, the further forward we can go, so it behooves each of us if all of us are going forward together.

Am I my brother’s keeper? No, but I can be my brother’s friend, my brother’s helper, and, quite simply, my brother’s brother. I love my family, even when we don’t always agree. Sometimes we don’t even get along. Everyone goes through those times, especially when you’re fighting your way up and out of the teenage years - Those can be horrible! - but family is family, and family means nobody gets left behind. When push comes to shove, you’re there, even if you’re grumbling through gritted teeth while you’re there. I learned that from my family, and, through my family, I learned how to apply the idea to the world at large. We don’t have to always agree or get along, but we are all family. When push comes to shove, we need to remember that, and help each other to move forward.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

For My Children

There are few things in this life that can give a faster or more involved lesson in love than becoming a parent. There is something about that moment that changes everything, and that moment is not bound by a particular date or event. Whether you become a parent when that child is born or through some other process after the child is older makes little difference on this particular aspect of parenthood. Not everyone who has custody of a child is a parent, but a parent is a parent, regardless of how it happened.

It’s not necessarily that being a parent brings out the best in a person. Parents make at least as many mistakes as anyone else, and sometimes those mistakes can have enormous consequences. The fact that those mistakes leave imprints on innocent people and cast shadows into the future makes them inherently larger, just as a matter of course. Being a parent does, however, make you want to be your best, and that distinction can make all the difference in the world. There is no handbook or magical solution. We, as parents, don’t have the answers, but we know that our children believe we do have the answers, and that responsibility drives and informs our every action. We aren’t guaranteed to be the best, but you better believe we desperately want to be the best, and we spend many hours - hours that our children don’t usually get to see - sweating and fretting over every decision we make.

Is it the best? Was it the best? What else could I have done? What else should I do? Am I doing enough? Is it even possible to do enough? I need to do more. I can never do enough. I never do enough. I’m such a failure. Please don’t let me fail my child. I can’t possibly be enough, but please, oh please let me be enough.

If you’re a parent, you’re nodding your head as you read that. I can almost guarantee it. We all go through it. Most of us go through it often. If you’re a child, you may not realize your parents go through that, but they do. Count on it. It’s that razor sharp tension between wanting to be your best and knowing all too well how rarely human beings ever achieve the best. We usually try to hide the fact that we don’t have all of the answers, but we don’t have all of the answers. We’re winging it. We’re trying to do our best, but we’re really winging it.

I don’t know whether or not that’s reassuring - it’s hard to say from the vantage of the parent whose children are nearly grown - but I hope it leads to understanding at least. We want to be our best; we just don’t always know how. When you came into our lives, you didn’t bring an instruction manual along with you. We got tips and hints from the parents who came before us, but they had the same limitations that we have. They had to learn on the job as well. They did their best, just like we try to do, but there is a heavy element of guesswork involved. Sometimes you can’t see the results of your efforts until far, far later. You just have to aim straight and hope for the best.

In my case, I have been fortunate in that I have become a parent in just about every way it is possible to do so. I was there at the birth of my son, and I have stepped into the parental role for children who don’t share my DNA through processes both formal and informal, legal, marriage, and otherwise. I have even spent time as a teacher, and let me tell you, there is more than a little overlap there. I know I have failed so often, but I have tried my best for each of them, and I continue to do so in every way I can. I will always continue to do so in every way I can.

For my children, I see some of you more than others, but each of you is in my thoughts and in my heart every day. There has not been a day since you came into my life that I have not thought about you, worried about you, and hoped for you. I have watched you learn, and I watch you continue to learn, sometimes whether you like it or not, but that’s life. We don’t always get the choices we want, but we’re always learning from our choices. You have fought that at times, you fight that at times, but then you learn, and I hide my grin behind my hand so you won’t see it and get the wrong idea. I let you fall down, even though everything inside of me screams to carry you through every problem you might have, and I don’t let you see how relieved I am when you stand back up and take that next step to keep going forward. I know you can do it, but I can’t give you my faith. That’s one of the things you have to learn. I can only tell you, it’s as hard on me as it is on you, but we’ll get through it together.

There are things I would go back and do differently if I could, but I hope that we have made the most of what we did even if it wasn’t always the best we could have done at the time. I doubt there will ever be a time when I can look back and say anything different. No matter how old you get, you will always be my children, and I will always be trying to do my best, making mistakes, and trying to get the best results out of those mistakes. Even when I’m not there, even when I can’t be there, know that I am there in every way possible, and that I always will be.

I’ve enjoyed the years we’ve had, even when they weren’t enough. I look forward to the years ahead and hope that they can be more. There’s never enough, though, is there? We always shoot for the stars, but never quite get there. Still, aiming high is how we get as far as we do get, so we just keep doing the best we can, and appreciate what we have. I appreciate you. I hope you know that.

For my children, I love you. Each of you. I miss you more often than you think, and I’m glad you came into my life. I look forward to seeing the shapes you leave in the universe, and hope that I get to help leave those shapes as often as possible. Go out and shape the world. It’s waiting for you.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Real True Love

Heather and I got to talking about the meaning of love on the drive to work this morning. (Yes, we have those kinds of conversations during the morning commute. Doesn’t everyone?) The radio was playing one of those songs about how the singer would do absolutely anything for the person he loves, and this got us both asking questions. I won’t name the song - while I’ve never been particularly fond of this song, I’m in the minority on this one, and it is from a singer whose work I otherwise enjoy greatly - but the specific song isn’t terribly important. It’s a fairly common idea, and I think it is also fairly common that this idea is expressed in a way that is neither helpful nor useful to anyone. It’s not really a good view into love, either, when you get right down to it.

Let’s get the easy part out of the way first. Artistic license is artistic license, and I don’t expect anyone to get complex philosophy addressed completely and in detail in a three-and-a-half minute song. That’s not what this is about. Few people expect to actually move mountains or swim seas, and we usually understand what is going on with such references. They certainly have their place and can make for wonderful and expressive art. What I’m talking about here are the rare instances where that expression crosses the line into genuinely unhealthy versions of itself, where we may actually be glorifying things that really do not have any business being glorified.

In the novel Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein stated that, “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” It’s the basic idea that seeing you smile makes me smile, your happiness adds to my happiness. If you’ve been in love, you know the feeling because I do think this is a perfect description. This is love, distilled down to its most basic essence. The trouble only comes, if it comes, based on how we express this condition.

If the expression is entirely one-sided, it will lead to pain. That is unavoidable. Unrequited love may make for romantic fiction, but it tends to make for broken hearts and shattered lives in the real world. That is not a recipe for healthy human interactions. That is not to say that there aren’t times when it could still be appropriate - unconditional love, after all, is the ideal, and unconditional would have to include whether requited or not - but one-sided love must also include active restrictions if it is to remain healthy. As a parent, I will love my children no matter what, but there are times when that expression of love is best exemplified by the word, “No.” Love is wanting someone else to smile, but it isn’t always about making someone else smile.

That’s the piece that is usually missing from songs of this type. They will go into great detail about what the singer will do to make the recipient smile but, by the end of the song, they sound more like a recipe for abuse than a declaration of feeling. “You can do all of these things to me, and I will keep giving you the world.” Well, okay, but what happens when you have no world left to give? In a healthy relationship, you are each supporting the other, so the more you give the more you have to give. In the relationships described in these songs, there is no support. Only one side is giving, and that side must run out eventually. The human capacity to give is enormous, but it is not infinite. You can’t pour from an empty cup. If you are not taking care of each other, and no one is taking care of you, your cup will run out and you will end up depriving two people because you tried to do too much for one. Balance is necessary in all things, and that includes love.

I’ll let you in on a secret, though: You’ll never have to actually think about that balance in a healthy relationship. It’s automatic. That’s what makes it a healthy relationship. In a healthy relationship, when you say, “I will do anything,” it is balanced out by the other person also saying, “I will do anything,” and neither of you would ever let the other one go too far. “I will give you anything, but I will never ask for more than you can give.” Love is nurturing and healing and building, but even more importantly, love is all of those things with open honesty. It’s not just that your smile makes me smile. Because I know that we love each other, I also know that my smile makes you smile, so a key part of keeping you smiling is to keep me smiling, and vice versa. See how that works? We build up each other, and we’re both better for it. We’re both offering the same world, so neither of us need ever run out.

Love is not two teenagers who kill each other in a fit of dramatic pique. There’s a reason that play is called a tragedy. Love is making each other better. If you’re ever using the word “love” and you’re not making each other better, maybe consider whether or not you’re using the right word. If nothing else, remember that you have to love yourself as well. Love is not a tragedy. Love is love.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Facing Reality Head On

We each have a vision of how the world should be, and most of us work to at least some degree to make that vision a reality. We volunteer, we teach, we work, or we just do. Whatever our method, we are generally more happy when things are moving toward what we prefer and less happy when they are moving away. The trouble is, though, that far too often it is our own actions - even actions that we take toward our vision - that push our vision away and make our goals more difficult to achieve.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. It’s an aphorism that has been repeated so many times in recent history that it has become almost trite, but it is still true. Ideal is ideal, of course, but ideal is also often out of reach. If not out of reach, it usually cannot be reached in a single step. You have to walk the path to reach the peak, and refusing steps along the way because they aren’t the goal is the easiest way to prevent ever reaching the goal. Getting to a difficult goal is usually an incremental process. You improve a little at a time, using each improvement to build to the next, and stacking them all up until you have reached your goal.

This is how reality works. Wishing otherwise won’t make it otherwise. You can’t get six-pack abs without going through the process. You can’t become an expert mechanic without going through the process. You can’t learn a new language without going through the process. We know this. We expect this in most of the things we do in our lives. Why then do we forget this when it matters?

To use the bullying example I was discussing recently, ideally we would like to tell the victims of bullying to never change, to stand strong in being who you are no matter what, but standing strong has consequences, and sometimes those consequences are worse. Personally, I’m not about to tell a child who is already hating life that his best course of action is to take steps that are going to make his personal situation even worse. That doesn’t even make sense. I want to make life better for that child, not offer an empty gesture that isn’t going to help anyone. I can tell that child to stand firm, and incur continued and possibly increasing bullying, or I can try to teach that child tricks that might prevent bullying. In some cases, those tricks might require that the child in question makes changes, or doesn’t show certain things quite as much, and the child will need to balance the changes with the consequences to determine the better course of action. We won’t get a perfect situation, but we might get a better situation.

Politically speaking (and this is absolutely one of the only times I will ever mention politics in these pages, because it directly pertains to the subject at hand), I lean libertarian. My ideal state is for people to leave people alone, to help each other voluntarily, and to respect the rights and personal space of all of the other people so that we don’t have to try to control each other just to accomplish living on the same planet. I am fundamentally opposed to any law that seeks to coerce people into anything other than staying out of each other’s way (grossly simplified, but I hope you get the idea). Frankly, that puts me at odds with the vast majority of existing laws. I have the option of fighting these laws constantly or just ignoring them completely, both of which would almost certainly lead to a shortened life (or at least shortened as far as the amount of time living that life outside of a cage goes), or I can prioritize based on what I can put up with in relation to the potential consequences. I’ll take the best option I can get that doesn’t result in making things worse, and I won’t deny that better option just because it’s not perfect.

We have to work with the reality we have. Very often, our goal is to change that reality, but you can’t change it by pretending that it has already changed. That doesn’t work. That’s just a good way to get run over by a reality that isn’t very good at pretending. Reality is stubborn, simple-minded, and totally lacking in imagination. Have you ever seen any old cartoon or comic with a farmer trying to get a mule to do something the mule doesn’t want to do? Reality is a mule. Getting it to do anything other than go in the same straight line it’s already using is hard work, and will often requires many starts and stops, wrong turns, false starts, bumps and bruises, and no small amount of harsh language.

One thing that makes it easier, though, is working together. The more people we have pulling on that silly mule, the more likely it is to change directions. It’s difficult to get people to work with you by berating them, though. That’s another of the mistakes we make far too often. We’re trying to make things better but we make them worse instead by making enemies out of people who could be allies. Like it or not, people are human, and humans have this thing called psychology. Psychologically speaking, if you start by cussing someone out and telling them how stupid they are, they’re not likely to be inclined to see things your way. Again, that’s just reality. Sometimes people are stupid, but are you making things better by rubbing their noses in it? That can be satisfying, I’m sure, but are you more interested in being satisfied than in achieving your goal? Sometimes we need to take a step back and look closely at what we’re actually doing. If we’re making things worse, we’re probably part of the problem, no matter our intentions.

Reality is a tricky beast, but there are levers and switches and buttons that can be used to your advantage. If you’re honest about what it is in the first place, what you want in the second place, and how the path works between those two points in the third place, you can usually find ways to out-trick the beast. You have to take it for what it is, though, first. You have to face reality head on, don’t flinch, and work with the tools you have. Our best work with flawed tools will outperform imaginary work with ideal tools every time. Don’t let perfection be the enemy. Be better, and let the rest work itself out along the way. We’ll get there.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rules For Being Human

I don't know about the "handed down from ancient Sanskrit" part, but they're good rules to consider on this fine Wednesday morning, regardless.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Changes Get Better

We just had an announcement at my day job that didn’t make anyone on my team very happy. Without going into detail, we’re losing a person that none of us want to lose. It’s his choice, not a laid off situation, and he is going to take advantage of a wonderful opportunity, so we are happy for him, but we’re not happy about the situation in general. The fact that various internal circumstances made it possible that some other, outside opportunity would be better adds to the frustration, but that’s actually a different discussion. At issue here is just the plain and simple fact that we are losing someone we don’t want to lose. There are no circumstances that make that easy.

Change is terrifying under normal circumstances. We get used to things the way they are and resist change, even when that change is for the better. That’s human nature. It’s one reason why abuse victims stay where they are, why people hesitate to take that promotion, and why you stay at a job or place that makes you happy. Regardless of anything else, you know what to expect in the situation you have. It’s familiar, and familiar makes things comfortable, even odd things that should never be comfortable.

We forget, though, that change is also how you make things better. Change does not equal better, don’t make that mistake, but you can’t get to one without the other. You can’t make things better without changing them. You can make things worse by changing them, so be careful, but you have to take a chance. There are no rewards in life without risk.

In this case, my friend (and I do think of him as a friend, not just a co-worker or anything else) is taking a huge risk, but the payoff has the potential to be amazing. He’s been with us for ten years, and in the position he currently holds for five, but he’s going into business for himself, in a field within which he has extensive experience, and in an environment that promises to be a pretty nice workspace. I’d probably go with him if that were an option, but staying will be a significant change as well. His impact on this workspace cannot really be overstated.

The reactions around the table when this announcement was made were about what you would expect. The box of tissues was passed around, and everyone gave the “hate to lose you but happy for you” speeches, and the speeches were entirely sincere, but there was also an unarguable element of, “Now what?” Things have been a little shaken up around here lately, and this person has played a key role in keeping things as close to stable as they have been. There’s a feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

We’ll get through this, though, because that’s part of being human as well. We resist change, we struggle against change, but change happens, becomes the new normal, and then we’ll resist change again when the time comes. Every situation that is normal now was a change in the past. It’s all a matter of adapting and making the most of things. It’s uncomfortable at the time of change, but it gets better. It gets better because we change as well, but that’s part of the secret. Nothing stays the same, but you can help guide where it’s going to go.

I’ll be doing more than just wishing my friend luck, because his new enterprise will be dependent on the public for its success, so we’ll be visiting. We’ll be doing our part to help him be successful. Still, I do wish him all the luck in the world. It will be a difficult transition - he and I have worked directly together for five years now, and there are a few people on the team with even longer relationships - but we will all grow as a result. Everything changes, but we have every reason to believe that these will be changes for the better. We’ll be doing our part to make sure that happens, as well. I may be wishing him luck, but I’m certainly not relying on that luck. The best luck is usually the kind you make for yourself. We’ll be growing and learning and making some luck while we go, and I know that my friend will be doing the same.

Good luck, my friend. We’ll see you along the way.

And because these things put me in mind of a couple of good songs for the occasion, I’ll leave you with these thoughts from Tesla.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

TGIF - Happy Birthday

The beginning of March is a pretty special time here at the home of Frequently Interrupted. It’s Birthday Season for us, as Heather and both of our boys all three have birthdays within a few days of each other. Even more of note, this year marks the first time that all three of them are legally adults, since the youngest boy turns 18 with this one. I have not one, but two children who have crossed that magical threshold now. Imagine that! There was a time when it wasn’t exactly guaranteed that I would reach that number, let alone help shephard other living human beings through that point. Life is just full of surprises.

We’ve been discussing plans, but I still don’t know exactly what is going to happen. I’m pretty sure that dinner and a movie are involved, but where and what and even who are all still up in the air. It should be interesting. Last minute plans almost always end up entertaining at least. Maybe not in the way they were intended, but entertaining, just the same.

We have a court date coming up next week with the foster care situation, but no one has expressed any concerns. It should be a routine thing, not counting my concern with having to repeat the same paperwork and process multiple times. Honestly, if you’ve seen any news lately about the horrible conditions at the Arizona Department of Child Services, or whatever they’re calling themselves this week, those reports were probably understated. It’s frustrating, to say the least, to see how much good can be done and to see it not being done largely because the people who run the show aren’t really running the show. They often don’t seem to be fully aware of what the show even is, or, perhaps, that there even is a show at all which is in need of being run.

At any rate, I probably shouldn’t be typing when I’ve just been told I have to complete the same notarized form for the third time. It puts a damper on the mood. There are some fantastic people involved - I do mean that in all sincerity - they’re just too often overshadowed by … the rest of them. We could certainly use more fantastic people. The children could use more fantastic people. If you or anyone you know can possibly help with the foster care situation - here or where you live; it’s no picnic all around - please step forward. There are always far more children in need than people able to fill that need. The more the merrier.

Happy Birthday Heather, Julian, and Collins. The three of you are among the most important reasons why I do what I do. I love each of you, and hope you have wonderful birthdays, with many more to come.

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