Thursday, June 30, 2016

Thank You For Your Support

Thank you for taking this journey with me over the past year. I had no idea where this would go when we began, but I’m liking the path. I hope you are as well, and I hope that you will continue to walk it with me. I certainly have no intention of stopping anytime soon, so I would enjoy the company.

This began as an expression of grief and an attempt to find a voice that I was afraid I might have lost completely. At the time, I was struggling to string three words together, let alone maintain a coherent thought from beginning to end, and do it repeatedly over a period of time. I have battled with depression for most of my life, but this was a new and terrifying development, and I needed a way to turn it around before it went too far. It was the perfect time to re-evaluate, and to invite others to learn with me. We could help each other, and each get more out of it as a result. I think we’ve had a pretty good first year for that. What say you?

We’ve expanded, obviously, and branched out to include topics and subjects that I think are relevant and related, but maybe not quite as personal, but I will also always come back to the personal. Even when it’s not personal, I try to give it a personal touch because I think that’s the way these things work best. We all care about the world, but we care for reasons, and those reasons are easier to grasp when they’re personal. Seeing how I approach and respond to those larger world issue on a personal level also gives a deeper, more practical view of the same mental health issues that were the root cause of this project. It all ties back together. Ultimately, I firmly believe that one person can make a difference, and this is me, trying to make a difference.

To make that difference, though, I do need your help. My voice is only so loud, my reach only so far. You can help me be louder and reach farther. If I have helped you in any way then I would ask you to please do me this favor: take your favorite post from Frequently Interrupted so far and share it with your friends. Show them what you like about this blog and encourage them to join our community. The more we grow, the more we can do and the further we can reach.

While you’re sharing, don’t forget that we have several methods to help with sharing. The main body of writing will always be on the blog, and we have both our Facebook page and Twitter (@MyInterruption) for previewing that writing, as well as for regular communication. I strongly encourage you to follow one or both of those so that you don’t miss anything, and please encourage your friends to follow as well. These are the places where we can talk with each other, share ideas, and grow a community. I would very much like to see our community grow, and your help is invaluable for that.

If following the motivational messages in picture form is more your style, we have Pinterest and Instagram (@MyInterruption) for that. We’re kind of split between the two. Almost everything that goes on the blog in image form ends up on Pinterest. Most of the self-contained images and the ones that are the right shape go on Instagram (which seems to have odd shape restrictions). Most of the images that we share on Facebook but not the blog also usually end up on Instagram, but you can also see more of my own personal image collection on Pinterest, if that interests you. I do believe in plenty of options.

If you would be interested in helping with financial support, and I would be most grateful if you are, we have a Patreon account and a CafePress store. I don’t have any goodies on the Patreon site because, as a writer with just about zero artistic ability, I’m not really sure what kind of goodies I could offer, but we do have t-shirts, mugs, and other odds and sundries with the Frequently Interrupted logo in the store. I hope to have more offerings available in the store in the near future, but that’s a matter of time and interest. Namely, if there’s something you’re interested in, let me know so I have a better idea of what to get to first. As always, all support is appreciated but it will never be required.

Finally, the Frequently Interrupted team is participating in an Out of the Darkness walk in December to help raise awareness and support for suicide prevention. Obviously this is a big deal to me, and I would appreciate all of the help and support we can get. You can help by spreading the word, first and foremost. Tell everyone this is happening, and tell everyone they can help. Then you can either join our walking team and work to raise funds and awareness yourself, or you can donate through one of the walkers on our team. Click for more information, and thank you for your support.

I seem to say that last phrase fairly often, but I mean it in all sincerity. None of this would work without you. Even the writing therapy aspect of it is more beneficial because I have people with whom to share that therapy. Thank you, and thank you for helping us grow. I’ll close by repeating the challenge once more. If I have been of any help to you, please take your favorite Frequently Interrupted entry and share it with your friends. Encourage them to join us, and help spread the word. Thank you.

Here’s to another great year. Namaste.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Happy Humpday 6-29-16

It often seems, lately, that we could use the reminder.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

One Wish

If you had one wish, what would it be? We’ve all played this game with friends, sitting around trading What If’s and imaginary futures. Fame and fortune, super powers, immortality, or the love of your life, the answers you get usually depend on the audience and the ground rules set at the beginning. Sometimes they’re serious, sometimes they’re absolutely hilarious, but they’re never real. It’s not like we expect a genie to pop out of some handy lamp and start granting wishes, so we don’t take it seriously. It’s just fun and games.

What if we did take it seriously, though? If you really had one wish, and it would really happen, how would you use it? The usual ground rules apply: no resurrections, no extra wishes, no fake love potions, but you can permanently change one thing in the world. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Aladdin taught us that the obvious wishes aren’t always the best wishes, so let’s take it a step further, shall we? How would you use your one wish to make a better world? Remember, you only get one, so make it count, and think it through. You don’t have a backup wish to make corrections when it turns out that you didn’t consider side effects and consequences in the wish you made. That complicates things, makes the decision a bit more difficult.

Yes, these kinds of thought puzzles are the way my brain often spends its leisure time. That being the case, I have actually considered the question, and I think I have hit upon a pretty solid answer. If I were going to make one wish to make the world a better place, I think I would wish for understanding. Just that. I would wish for people to understand each other.

Understanding is a noninvasive problem solver. Wishing understanding on everyone doesn’t compel any particular action, but it does make more productive answers more likely. It wouldn’t solve everything, but how many of the issues that we face daily are caused by misunderstandings? How many fights erupt out of faulty information? How many suicide notes were written because no one understood?

In the Orson Scott Card novel Ender’s Game, the protagonist, Ender Wiggin, is a strategic genius whose brilliance is explained as an almost superhuman ability to understand the other perspective. As he describes it, "I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves." I don’t know. I think Card may have overstated the idea a little, but then, Ender was also a child, even if a brilliant, precocious child. Maybe perfect understanding would translate into love, and the holdup is simply that we lack perfect understanding, or maybe sometimes you really can understand completely and still not love, but I do think we are at least far more likely to find ways to get along if we understand each other. Robert Heinlein summed up the idea a bit more pragmatically in Time Enough for Love: “Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend.” Notice that “it may”, not “it will,” but the idea is certainly the same. Understanding can lead to accord.

We forget things like this often in the hustle and bustle of the modern world. It’s faster, and even easier, to just assume and put people into boxes of our own design, rather than accept the more complicated (and generally out-of-the-box) reality that is most people. This is especially true when we’re talking about something that is personally important. If I have decided that this is Right and The Way It Should Be Done then anyone who disagrees must have some nefarious reason for doing so and is probably a bad person, if not outright bent on destroying the world. If we take the time to understand we might learn that the other person wants the best just as much as we do. They just have a different belief on how that best is achieved. The problem is, that takes time and effort, and we’d rather spend those on things of our own choosing than on someone who might be “the enemy.” Never mind they might not actually be the enemy of we took the time and effort. This way is easier.

This way also breaks things. It often breaks our things. Maybe it would be worthwhile to try a different way?

Taking the time to understand each other does not guarantee that we will always come to agreement, or even necessarily get along, but it doesn’t hurt either. If you take the time and still can’t agree, at least you disagree honestly and won’t have later cause for regret when you learn that it was all a misunderstanding. It also means that, even if you disagree, maybe you won’t disagree as much. Maybe you can find some pieces of agreement within the larger disagreement.

If I had one wish, it would be that we could all better understand each other. It wouldn’t make the world perfect, but it would sure make it better, and better is always in the right direction. Wishful thinking, right? We’ll keep trying and, little by little, we’ll get there eventually.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

TGIF 6-24-16

Happy Friday everyone! Move in peace, and have a fantastic weekend.

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Thursday, June 23, 2016

One A Day

Write one page a day. It’s not exactly original advice, and I certainly can’t take credit for it, but it is advice that I have both given and failed to follow on many occasions. The context in which it is usually given is for those who wish to write fiction - and it certainly applies there, since a page a day will net you about a novel in a year, give or take - but it has applications beyond the obvious as well. The idea of writing a page a day can be quite therapeutic.

For starters, it’s a matter of discipline. People who are struggling with depression and similar issues often have a hard time maintaining motivation for doing necessary tasks. To be honest, it can be a trial just to get motivated at all, let alone staying motivated, and then it’s so easy to get frustrated when you don’t manage to accomplish some task you had set for yourself. It’s easy to give up when you’re that kind of frustrated, and far too easy to quit. That is, in fact, the usual run of events. Star, fail (or seem to fail), get frustrated, decide you can’t do it, and quit. Rince and repeat until you just stop starting at all.

Writing a page a day is easy, though. Children can do it. Children do it all the time, as part of their regular educational activities. It’s a small accomplishment that can be a real accomplishment, helping to push away the specter of surrender and defeat. You set yourself a goal of writing a page a day, you write a page a day, and you win.

So what do you write? Anything you want to write. Anything you need to write. For the purpose of this exercise, you have no teacher and no one will be grading your paper. Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, or spelling. You don’t even really need to worry about content. You’ll get there, but start with just writing something. The first goal you want to reach is accomplishing a goal, any goal. Get a little positive reinforcement going so that you can build up momentum, and use that to propel yourself to bigger and better things. If stream of consciousness gets you through the day, let loose your inner Cheshire Cat. We’re all a little mad here, and that’s perfectly fine. Sometimes embracing that is exactly how you overcome that.

Once you have the habit going, you can turn it into something even more productive. Start keeping a journal. Keep track of things that matter to you. This doesn’t need to be a Dear Diary thing. I’ve seen perfectly working journals that were just daily lists. It’s your journal, and it only needs to be exactly what you need it to be. If you need to write paragraphs about your day, do so. Mix it up with poetry and a little artwork? That adds spice and flavor. If bare bones, no frills lists are more your style, follow your enumerated heart to its box-checking content. What matters is that you are expressing yourself in healthy ways and through a method that is also achieving a goal.

If I may make some small suggestions, though, there are pieces your journal should contain, regardless of format. In order to get the best out of this exercise, it needs to be sure and cover at least two functions: addressing what is bringing you down, and addressing what can help you back up. Writing down your problems can help you to see them in a fresh light, and often lets you see that they are smaller and more manageable than you might have believed. When we keep things locked up inside of our head, they tend to grow. We can’t really see them in there, and proportions get tricky. On the other side, listing the positives helps you to remember that the positives exist. Sometimes these may be solutions to the problems that presented themselves when things got written down. Sometimes the positives may be nothing more than, “I saw a new flower by the sidewalk today,” and that’s fine too. No one leads a perfect life, and some days will be more struggle than others, but there is always something positive. Look for it, find it, and write it down. If that positive is nothing more than a flower, you found a positive. Remember that, and let it help you through to the next positive.

In reading these pages, you are looking at pieces of my journal. You get to see mine because helping you helps me. That’s the way my brain is wired, but yours doesn’t have to be. If there is someone with whom you can share even pieces of your journal, that’s a trust that should be cherished. If you’re not at that point, don’t let that concern you. Find that point within yourself. The important thing is that you be honest and, if that means absolute privacy, then write in absolute privacy. Use these tools in the way that you need to use them.

It has been said that you should sit in meditation for at least twenty minutes every day, unless you are too busy in which case you should sit for an hour. The point is, your health is your greatest treasure, and you must treat it as such. When you think you are too busy to take care of yourself is precisely when you most need to be taking care of yourself. For the record, it took me about twenty minutes to write this. I’ve been writing my entire life, so remember that when making comparisons, but a few minutes a day can go a long way toward your own mental health.

Take care of yourself, and you can better take care of those around you. Try this exercise for two weeks and see how it works. If you have further thoughts or questions on the matter, I would live to hear them. I hope it helps.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Happy Humpday 6-22-16

Something we tend to forget. Think about it.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Take A Break

If you’re following along, you know I took a vacation last week. Not much of one. We didn’t go anywhere, and I still worked part of the week, both here and at the day job, but I took most of the week off, and did far less that would be called “work” than I usually do. It was relaxing, and it was needed. We forget far too often that we need to take a break sometimes. Leisure time isn’t actually a luxury. It’s a necessity. If you don’t take a break occasionally, you become less and less productive at whatever it is you’re doing and, in the long run, you should have taken a break because you end up not accomplishing much anyway.

There is a modern belief that you have to put your shoulder to the wheel, your nose to the grindstone, and just push, push, push in order to be anything in this world. That has its place. There are times when you do need to push yourself to your limits and do even more than you thought was your best in order to get the job done, and the job does usually have to be done. There are also times, though, when the job is done, and we tend to not be so good at recognizing those times. Do the job that is in front of you but, when the job is done, let yourself take a break. If it’s a long job that isn’t going to be done anytime soon, take breaks along the way. You’ll actually get more done that way, and you’ll appreciate the results.

I’ve needed a break for a little while now. I started this blog as a way to address my own growing issues with depression and grief. I was missing my dad something fierce, I was struggling with frustration over some directions life had gone, and I was badly in need of an outlet. Both of those causes are still true - I’m typing this out on Father’s Day, and I keep having to pause because the screen gets too blurry - but they’re much less overwhelming now than they were a year ago when we started this journey. I’m rediscovering some perspective and some patience, I’m bringing back some things that I learned after the breakdown that started the original journey, and I’m remembering that life has its own way. Sometimes I need to just sit down, shut up, and enjoy the view.

We quickly expanded, though, and this blog became about more than just my personal mental foibles. Some of the expanded subject matter has been preying on my mind lately, as the news becomes more and more toxic, and more and more people - good people, in so many cases - seem to lose their way in fear, anger, and negativity. When you want the world to be a good place, it’s hard sometimes to not run out there and fight every battle, to tilt at every windmill, to champion every cause, but you can’t do it. That way will wear you down. Pick your battles, and just plain stop occasionally. It’s necessary. Most importantly, tend your own garden, and let other people tend theirs. If we do it right, most things will take care of themselves that way. There is less to clean up if we’re all cleaning up as we go.

Heather and I visited a local Japanese Friendship Garden over the weekend. To be blunt, she thought I need a bit more than to just take a few days off. She was right. I live in the desert because the day job requires that I live here, but I’m not comfortable with it. Most days I can manage just fine. A place is a place is a place, and you can make something good out of most places with a little love and effort. I have plenty of both. When the batteries are low, though, the right or wrong environment can make so much difference. There’s a bench in this garden, under a tree near a waterfall. I sat on that bench. It could have been five minutes. It could have been five years. Everything just melted away. It was glorious, and I will not be waiting so long to do it again.

Life is about balance and perspective. Without one, we often lose the other. Try too hard to be one thing and you lose sight of the other things that are important. There is far more than one thing in any life that is important. Don’t lose your way. Don’t get so caught up in what you’re doing that you forget you have other things to do as well. Sometimes the most important thing you have waiting to do is nothing. Nothing can be a critical thing to do from time to time. Try it and see.

Take a break. Take plenty of breaks. Even that important task you’re working on will thank you when you come back with renewed energy and a refreshed sense of wellbeing. You have to take care of you or you can’t really take care of anything else, so take a break when you need one. Get some “me” time, relax a little, and live. That is the point, after all. Don’t get so busy that you forget to live.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Monday Motivation 6-20-16

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Father's Day yesterday. We'll spend one more moment in that memory, if you don't mind.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Small Vacation

So I probably should have given you some advanced notice, but I'm taking a small vacation this week. I'll be posting some images and little thoughts on Facebook, like I do most days, but I'm taking the week off from major posts. No issues, just need a break. We've been going non-stop for nearly a year now, would you believe it? It's been a very busy couple of weeks at the day job for me, and this week is just loaded with foster care appointments (all of which are just pro forma, so no worries there either). I'm going to take a few days to have one less responsibility and recharge the batteries a little. I do consider this a responsibility, and I thank you for letting me come into your homes and into your thoughts on a daily basis. It's important, and I strive to treat it as such. Thanks for taking this journey with me, and I'll see you next week.

I'll still be around, of course, so drop me a line if anything comes up. Siochan leat. Namaste.

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Orlando Tragedy

Those of us who tend to sleep in on Sunday are waking up to some horrific news out of Orlando, Florida. Before you start using that to further an agenda (and I've seen three already this morning - three separate agendas that are even contrary to each other - let that sink in for a moment), take a moment to remember the lives involved, those lost and those left behind to deal with the loss. I know that we each have our own ideas on how to fix these problems, but maybe just once we can set aside our egos instead, stop being so pig-headedly convinced of our own rightness, and just be there for each other. Who knows? Maybe we wouldn't even have to try to solve these problems so often if we just tried that option a bit more often. Just a thought. All of our thoughts and sympathies go out to the victims and families in Orlando. Nothing we say can make this better, but we're here for you, however we can be, in what little ways that may be. Siochan leat. Peace be with you.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Dirt Road Therapy

You'll travel down many roads in this life. Make sure at least a few of them are dirt.

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Thursday, June 9, 2016

And More Songs About Me

We’ve gotten onto a bit of a roll this week, so I’m just going to keep it rolling and even expand on it a bit. I’ve done posts with other music, and I don’t doubt that I will do more, so why not one with some of my favorite country music as well? Let me see, “favorite” might not actually be the right word. I don’t do favorites very well, and any real list of my favorites would take an entire day to go through (though that would certainly be an enjoyable way to spend a day), but these are some that really mean something to me. Some songs speak to something even deeper than your soul, and these would fit that bill for me.

All songs are copyright to their respective owners, who you should definitely go check out and support.

Kenny Chesney - Noise

Yeah we scream, yeah we shout 'til we don't have a voice
In the streets, in the crowds, it ain't nothing but noise
Drowning out all the dreams of this Tennessee boy
Just tryna be heard in all this noise

It’s easy to rate Kenny as one of my favorites, and most people who know me know that already. The beach cowboy who spends a great deal of time in the Islands and is all about that relaxed way of life would certainly have an appeal for me. Being a great singer with a knack for releasing catchy songs with spirit and meaning certainly helps. These days we often seem to be surrounded by noise, and we need a reminder to disconnect from time to time. Turn it down, maybe even turn it off for a while, and be heard. Listen to your dreams and listen to your neighbors. As the saying goes, the quieter you become, the more you can hear. There is plenty to hear, if we just take the time to listen.

Maren Morris - My Church

I’ve cussed on a Sunday
I’ve cheated and I’ve lied
I’ve fallen down from grace
A few too many times
But I find holy redemption
When I put this car in drive
Roll the windows down and turn up the dial

To each his own, but I’ve rarely been able to get a feeling of anything sacred inside a building, any building. Give me the outdoors, the running water, or the open road and I’ll show you the Divine. Add in a ripping soundtrack and we’ll elevate right on up to Holy. Music is not just a part of my life, it’s a part of who I am. If I’m not listening to it on the radio, I’m listening to it in my head. Count on it. For me, taking a moment of silence doesn’t count for music. Music is air. It’s everything else that needs to be silenced at times. Spirituality has different meanings for different people, and that’s not even getting into the rules and regulations of religion, but my church definitely has no walls, and plenty of sound.

Lady Antebellum - Compass

You wanna give up 'cause it's dark
We're really not that far apart
So let your heart, sweet heart
Be your compass when you're lost
And you should follow it wherever it may go
When it's all said and done
You can walk instead of run
'Cause no matter what you'll never be alone

I can’t hear this song without wanting to dance, and just because I can’t dance doesn’t mean I won’t try. Sometimes dancing badly is the best part of life. If you don’t know that already, you should try it. Lady Antebellum has one of the best vocal duos in modern music, and they showcase that sweet harmony in this song that also includes such a beautiful message. You’ll never be alone. Don’t give up when it’s dark, because it will be light again. Keep going, and trust yourself. Believe in yourself and know that you have a compass with you, always.

Dierks Bentley - Up On The Ridge

Let's blow out these city lights
Let's just leave it all behind
Get up where the air is still
You can hear the whippoorwill

Speaking of wanting to dance, there’s just something about that running fiddle that makes it nearly impossible for the feet to stay still. Maybe it’s the Irish in me. Sometimes we need to leave behind the city lights, dance under the stars, and love up on the ridge. Get back to the basics and love life again.

Charles Kelley ft. Stevie Nicks - Southern Accents

There's a southern accent, where I come from
The young 'uns call it country
The Yankees call it dumb
I got my way of talkin'
But everything is done, with a southern accent
Where I come from

It’s been covered a number of times, and the original Tom Petty track is brilliant in its own right, but giving it a country spin and two of my favorite singers makes this one a requirement for this list, even if it doesn’t actually have a video. A southern accent is about more than how someone talks. Most times, people say I don’t have much of an accent. It comes out when I’m tired or frustrated, but most of my speech patterns come from watching 70’s and 80’s TV, which wasn’t heavy on accents. I was actually called a liar once, when I told someone I was from Texas, because I didn’t have the expected accent. I have it in my head, though. I have it in the way I think. Everything’s done with a southern accent where I come from, and that means far more than just how someone speaks.

Music can be a balm for the soul, but it can also be a window. Seeing what songs make someone think, make someone smile, or make someone cry can often tell you things about that person that they would never otherwise say out loud. Here is a little insight into that part of myself. I hope you enjoy it, and maybe it will inform some of the rest of what we usually talk about.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Songs About Me

As I mentioned before, the turning point for me in not just recognizing but fully acknowledging my country background and a true appreciation for country music was hearing the Trace Adkins song “Songs About Me.” In this one, Trace meets a guy on a flight who is dismissive about what the singer does for a living. "I've never been crazy 'bout that twang and trains and hillbilly thing. Whatever made you want to sing stuff like that?" The answer, of course, was the entire point of the song, and it changed the way I looked at the world in general, and my life quite specifically.

Music does that for me sometimes.

“Cause it's songs about me
And who I am
Songs about loving and living
And good hearted women and family and God
Yeah they're all just
Songs about me”

I don’t remember exactly when I first sat down and really listened to that song and what it was saying, but I know I did. As happened from time to time throughout my life, I was hanging out with people who spent more time listening to country music, and so was hearing more of it myself. I’ve always been a music fan, and there is a wide range of styles and genres for which I can find an appreciation, and hear what makes it work. Country music has always been swayed and informed by the influences of other popular music around it, and it did not escape my attention that, at this point in time, some of its biggest influences were things like Southern and 80s rock music. These were two genres that are high on my preferred list but that were, themselves, not getting much attention in their own rights, so it didn’t take much to appreciate another form of music that was using them, and doing a pretty good job of playing on that influence.

Then the lyrics kicked in and I realized, they really were songs about me. I grew up building fences, riding horses, and chasing cattle on my grandfather’s ranch. We picked corn and okra and so many other fresh vegetables in what he euphemistically called his garden (at one point in time, my grandfather’s “garden” was almost the entire next door vacant lot), and then Grandma kept a garage full of jarred vegetables, pickles, homemade jellies and the like, when she wasn’t covering the kitchen table and counters with their contents (she also made more and better pies than anyone you’ve ever met). As children, my brother and I chased each other through grapefruit orchards and cattle ranches while visiting our dad when he was away working on an oil rig somewhere down in The Valley. We may not have learned to swim in the river, but we probably spent more time in rivers and lakes than in pools, and many of our dinners came from the freshest food you can get, after we personally pulled it out of those rivers and lakes.

When I got older, I would spend time with my friends at the country dance hall just outside of town. I never really learned how to dance, but that didn’t stop people from trying to teach me. I was the guy there with long hair and piercings, wearing high top sneakers and t-shirts instead of cowboy boots and hat, but I was there and having fun with my friends. When we weren’t out dancing, we played an elaborate game of Hide and Seek that involved trucks and backroads and CB radios. You don’t get much more country than that, and it was fun.

This was the life I grew up in, and it was the life that shaped who I would grow up to be. I’ll be the first to tell you I didn’t always appreciate it at the time, but I sure do appreciate it now. As Trace says in another of his songs, “You’re gonna miss this.” Yep, the longer I’ve been away from home, the more I’ve missed it. As with so much in life, it’s all a matter of perspective. I learned about the love of family, the loyalty of friends, respect for nature, and an independent spirit, all while just playing and growing without even realizing at the time how much I was learning.

There are many people who are like that dismissive man on the plane at the beginning of the song. They think country is “twang and trains and hillbilly things,” without realizing that it’s also hearth and home, family and friends, love and loyalty. Whether you’re from ranch country, the rust belt, or the Pacific Northwest, there are elements of country in most of us, and you’ll often only find those elements celebrated in country music. By the end of the song, that dismissive man was agreeing, “man, you were right, it was like you sang those songs about me.” That often happens when people listen with an open mind. It’s somewhat amazing how many shared experiences we really have.

Music and video copyright to the original owners. Enjoy and support.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Stay Humble And Kind

If you pay any attention at all to country music then you have no doubt already heard the latest hit single from Tim McGraw, “Stay Humble and Kind”. For a man who has been knocking out hits for more than twenty years now, McGraw has an amazing ability to come out fresh and new on a regular basis, and he has certainly done it again with this one. I have recommended it to people who had not heard it yet, and been informed afterward that it is now part of their main musical rotation. In a time when the charts are dominated by “bro country” and party songs, this inspirational exhortation to good old country values stands out bright as day, and still feels like it belongs. It has a hook that grabs you, and a message that stays with you.

“Hold the door, say please, say thank you
Don't steal, don't cheat, and don't lie
I know you got mountains to climb but
Always stay humble and kind”

It’s a simple, straightforward reminder, for many of us, of what Mom said when we were kids. Or maybe it was Grandpa. If you had the kind of country upbringing that this song invokes then you can bet that there was someone telling you, by word or by deed, the message this song embodies. There are things you’re going to do, there are things you will need to do, but don’t forget these things while you’re at it. Go out there and knock ‘em dead, kid. Shake the world and let them know you were there, but don’t let it go to your head. Climb your mountains and, when you get to the top, turn around and reach out a hand. Help the next person up, because it really doesn’t have to be lonely at the top. It’s up to you, but don’t forget where you came from.

That’s always been an important message to me. I haven’t always been a comfortable member of the country music family. My crowd was the stoners, the metalheads, the outcasts, and even the rejects. Growing up in rural south Texas, the ‘kickers were often the A crowd, and my crowd didn’t get along so well with the A crowd. If you’ve ever read the S.E. Hinton classic The Outsiders (or seen what is actually one of the better book-to-movie adaptations, if you’re not a reader), we were the greasers and they were the socs. Of course, if you were paying attention to the story then you know that the distinction is pretty arbitrary and ultimately meaningless - people are people, and it’s what you do, not who you are, that matters - but you tend to miss that point while you’re living it. I digress. My point is, I didn’t exactly mix with country music back then, but I never forgot the basic message. Work hard, love your family, help your neighbors, don’t forget where you came from, and always stay humble and kind.

As I’ve gotten older, I have slowly figured out the idea that Hinton was trying to get across, and I have made it a point to mix and match to my heart’s content. When I went to college, I got into theater and definitely broadened my horizons when it came to both crowds and musical tastes, but it would still be a number of years before I would circle back around to admitting to being a country music fan. While putting together a collection of 80’s country hits for a play we were doing, I once told the others, “If I know it, it was probably a hit,” which wasn’t entirely true, but was still my frame of mind at that time. The turning point for me was Trace Adkins’ song, “Songs About Me”. When that one came out, I just laughed, but it was all laughing at me. That was the reminder, “This is where you come from.”

I’ve definitely mixed the genres of my life into a blend that most people wouldn’t recognize, but that country background has always been my foundation. Even when I wasn’t acknowledging it, even when country was the last thing I wanted to be, I could never turn my back on the basic message: Work hard, love your family, help your neighbors, don’t forget where you came from, and always stay humble and kind. When you get all the way down to the bottom, it’s who I am, and I have to say, I love there being a hit single that says it in the same words I’ve always thought it.

These days I’ve put the country right out front. I wear boots and a hat most of the time, and I’ve been known to slip into a drawl when I’m tired or frustrated. That’s still only part of who I am, but it’s often the part I choose to lead with now. It puts a number of things on the table before I’ve even said a word. I’d like to think that many of those things are what this song is saying. This is who I am, and I hope, no matter what, that who I am will always be humble and kind.

Music video by Tim McGraw performing Humble And Kind. (C) 2016 McGraw Music, LLC under exclusive license to Big Machine Label Group

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Friday, June 3, 2016

TGIF - Just Keep Swimming

Maybe perfection shouldn't be the goal. Just keep swimming. You may not always get where you thought you were going, but you'll always get somewhere.

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Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Three Pillars

So you want to change the world? What kind of transformation would you prefer? Would you like to make a contribution toward a more noble world? No, not a financial contribution, but the kind of contribution that every single person in this world is capable of making, regardless of economic status, race, gender or any other biasing influence.

If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you are interested in making a better world. Most people want to make a better world, if they think about such things at all. It is rare indeed that anyone actually wants to make the world worse.

Yet the actions of many people do make the world worse. Why is this? Why do so many people want to make the world better and yet accomplish the exact opposite?

The answer is more simple than you might think. There are three concepts that, if properly followed, will keep you focused on a better world, a better community, a better home and even a better you. The problem is that most people lose sight of at least one of these concepts somewhere along the way.

We can call these concepts the Three Pillars upon which all positive goals are balanced. They are Knowledge, Truth and Justice. Cognitio Veritas Iusticia.


It has been said that knowledge is power and nothing could be more true. Knowledge is the first step toward accomplishment and it is the greatest tool you can possess for changing the world. It may seem like a simple thing, but everything you hope to accomplish is dependent upon this pillar.

You must know where you are, where you want to be and how these two states relate to each other. Are you close to or far from your ideal? How close or how far? What are the barriers between you and your ideal and how might these barriers be addressed?

You must know the nature of your ideal and what actions or inaction will alter that nature. What will affect your course toward your ideal and what will those effects be? How much of these effects are dependent on you and how much are dependent upon others?

You must know if your ideal is even achievable. Are you trying for something that is within reach and just needs more work or are you trying for something that is truly impossible? Is there a goal that is close to your ideal but is more within the realm of the possible? Are there steps along the way that you must take to reach your goal or steps would make your goal more attainable?

All of this knowledge is necessary and important. If you truly wish to make a change, you must pursue this knowledge as though your greatest desires depend on it. They do!

You cannot rely on the word of others or what you hear in familiar debates. Remember that the reason so many people do ill when they want to do good is because they forget one of these pillars. The pillar of knowledge is often forgotten because people tend to hear a thing, believe it is reasonable or appropriate and then pass it along as fact. They take no steps to verify this fact and, before long, misinformation has replaced knowledge and the first pillar has collapsed.

Failure to properly collect and verify knowledge is the first reason why people who intend to do good fail at accomplishing this goal. The fact that much of what is being passed around as knowledge in modern thinking is, in reality, misinformed opinion is the first reason why the world is not improving at the rate implied by the number of people who wish it to improve.

If you wish to improve the world - or just yourself - the first thing you must do is collect the appropriate, accurate knowledge.


If knowledge is critical for achievement of the ideal, truth is absolutely mandatory. This is the pillar most often missed by those who try but fail to improve the world. It is not that people are intentionally dishonest; they are, instead, not scrupulously honest. There is a subtle but important difference.

Do you truly know what you claim to know or are you just passing along what you have heard? Did you latch on to something that felt right without verifying that it was right? Did you stop at the first fact that appeared to support your claim without continuing to look for information that might contradict it? Did you distort or leave out the facts that were not in your best interest?

Have you been honest about how much you know compared to how much you need to learn? Do you give the information you dislike like a fair hearing before dismissing it as false? Do you compare all of the available evidence before arriving at a conclusion?

These are all difficult questions to answer and, frequently, questions we do not like to answer. We want to believe that the cause we champion is the right one and we tend to gloss over or ignore any knowledge that might contradict this belief. Dismissing knowledge because you dislike like it or because it does not support your claim is not honest and it will not bring you closer to your ideal. In fact, it will drive you further away.

There are times when the evidence is in our favor, so we dismiss those few facts that are less flattering. This is not helpful! The information is available, whether we like it or not, and those who oppose our position will latch on to anything that might be detrimental to it. If we have tried to conceal this detrimental knowledge, we look dishonest, even if we have not been dishonest, and this will color the perception of the evidence we do have. One negative action, even if it only appears negative, can easily erase the results from a host of positive actions.

It is not uncommon for those who push a particular agenda to believe that the spotlight must be kept firmly on their facts and only their facts, but this does not actually promote their agenda. The other facts are still out there and available. If you behave like this, the only people who will believe you are those who already believe you and those who are too lazy to be of any help anyway. Other people will do the research, discover that you left out some facts and begin to wonder what else you may have left out or be concealing. These detrimental facts can only be surmounted by facing them directly and demonstrating openly why they do not detract from your cause. If you cannot do that, perhaps your cause is not as ideal as you think it is.

In this age of information - and especially in the trading of information necessary for ideal goals - lying, misleading and exaggerating are crimes that are almost impossible to hide. They will diminish you and make it more difficult to accomplish your ideal. It is only through an honest exchange of knowledge that we will ever have any hope of finding the common ground necessary for improving the world.


The final pillar supporting positive goals is justice. This is where you take that knowledge you have acquired and honestly verified, and put it to use.

In many respects, this is the easiest part of the process. The pursuit of justice means nothing more and nothing less than giving and taking only what is deserved. If, however, the first two pillars have not been properly established, this one has no hope and you may as well give up any dream of improving the world.

If you have not obtained all relevant knowledge of a particular situation and honestly verified and evaluated that knowledge, how can you possibly achieve justice in that situation? You will, at best, be working by luck and, since there are likely more possibilities for failure than success, your odds are not good.

If an honest evaluation of the knowledge you have obtained demonstrates that the cause you are pursuing will not actually help to achieve your ideal, it may be the right thing to abandon that cause. If this evaluation demonstrates that your cause will actually harm your ideal, it is absolutely the just course of action to abandon that cause.

If you wish to improve the world then justice demands that you reward the positive and not reward the negative. Do not promote what would destroy your ideal. Doing so would not be justice. It would be stupid.

Justice is your last step and the last thing you can control on your way to your ideal: Do the right thing. If you have diligently collected knowledge and have been scrupulously honest with that knowledge, you should have little trouble in discerning what “the right thing” is in your given situation. Doing it, however, may be a bit more difficult. It may, in fact, be painful but if you want to make a positive change then you have to do the right thing. You have to do what is just. Otherwise, you will not be pursuing your ideal.


The Three Pillars that support positive goals are Knowledge, Truth and Justice. Know the facts about yourself and your ideal; be honest in your evaluation and presentation of these fact; and do the right thing. If you can build your life on these Three Pillars then you are doing your part to achieve a positive change. If we can convince more people to live and act in this manner, we will become that much closer to improving the world.

Too many people miss out on at least one of these three. It is too much work to learn. It is too risky to be honest. It is too difficult to be fair. This is why things do not improve as we would like.

In reality, it is too much work to navigate successfully through life without knowledge. It is too risky to be dishonest and lose credibility in all of your arguments. It is impossible to make positive change without being fair.

If it is your genuine desire to make a positive change in yourself, your home, your community or your world, it is imperative that you learn this lesson: All positive change is balanced on the Three Pillars of Knowledge, Truth and Justice. Master that lesson and you are on your way.

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