Thursday, January 31, 2019

Your Better Self

You often hear advice along the lines of, "Always be yourself," and that is absolutely true. It is, however, also absolutely incomplete. You are not one whole, monolithic idea anymore than anything else around you is. You are a series of decisions, choices, desires, understanding, ignorances, mistakes, and so much more. You are many things woven together into a single tapestry, and you have many choices available to you as to what is you. You can make bad choices, and that is you, or you can make bad choices, and that is still you. Always be yourself, yes, but put in the effort to be your better self.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Live In What Is Happening

We all make plans of one sort or another. How often do those plans come through exactly as expected? I don't know about you, but my answer is something quite close to never. Life has a funny way of happening no matter what we plan. At some point, you have to look around you, acknowledge what is really happening, and go from there. Learning is a never ending process, and that includes learning about ourselves. Life is now. Accept that, and go from there.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Play Along

We spend so much time teaching our children how to grow up that we often forget how much our children can teach us. We forget things we knew from the start, things they know as a matter of course. When you fall down, pick yourself up. There is always something new. There is beauty everywhere and joy in the most mundane. Life is to be enjoyed. Help them learn what they need to know, but don't forget to learn what they have to teach as well. Play along, and enjoy your life.

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Monday, January 28, 2019

The Worst Mistakes

Everything in life is your teacher. Everything in life brings a lesson that can help you be a better you. The worst times in your life can bring the best lessons, but they are often the most difficult to see. We can get so caught up in simply trying to survive the bad that we forget to notice what is available for learning. Unfortunately, this leaves us ill prepared for the next time. Learn from the past, even from the worst of it, so that you can build a better future.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

Your Heart's Desire

In your darkest hour, may you find light. If you are cold, may you find warmth. If you are hungry, may you be nourished. There are no more basic needs, and no more fundamental desires. We are all a family, and we can all wish well for each other. May your house be a home, and may your home be full of light and warmth and love and laughter. Namaste.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Three Winter Months

The power of kindness cannot be overstated. Kindness brings peace to conflict, warmth to the cold, and strength to the infirm. The absence of kindness can destroy a life, but a single kind word can save one. If we all commit to being just a little bit kinder, that simple dedication will make the world a better place.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Those Who Have Suffered

Everyone sees the sunrise, everyone sees the Spring return, but few truly appreciate it. There is something we can learn, some positive we can take from every experience, even if it is only this: No one appreciates the warmth more than the one who has suffered through the cold.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Kindness Like Snow

Have you ever sat on a porch, drinking from a warm cup, and just watched the world before you covered in snow. It's a serene, peaceful experience that everyone should try at least once, but there is something remarkably close to that which we can all do daily. Kindness lays like snow, gently covering all it touches and filling it with a peaceful beauty. Every one of us can spread this serenity everywhere we go. Cover your world with kindness and make it a better place.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

Invincible Summer

In the deepest heart of Winter, it can be easy to forget the rising of the sun or the warmth of a summer breeze. This applies to both the practical Winter, and to the Winter of the soul or mind. When the dark and the cold take hold, they can tend to drive out all other thoughts. This is the time, however, to most remember who we are and who we can be. The sun rises, Summer returns, and we persevere. Just as the seeds are waiting beneath the snow to usher in new growth, so too are your own seeds waiting within, where the Summer can never be defeated.

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Friday, January 18, 2019

These Mountains

We often have a habit of making things worse than they need to be. Everyone does it, at least from time to time, and everyone could do with the reminder. Mountains are for climbing. Go as high as you can, enjoy the view and learn what you can learn. When you have done that, move on. Do not take the mountain with you. It isn't meant to go. Life has enough challenges without creating more.

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Not For Them

We must all walk our own path through this world and this life. That path will intersect many other paths, it will even share space with other paths for various lengths of time and at various points along the journey, but your path will still be your path. Enjoy the company you have while you have the company, but understand that only you can know all of the details of your own path. Chances are, you don't understand all of those details, yourself - I know I don't - so why expect anyone else to? People are going to misunderstand you, and that's fine. Walk your path.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Here Is The World

The world around you is a great many things. Some of them you will enjoy. Some of them you will not. All of them will teach you something, if you are open and willing to learn. Do not be afraid. Lean into the world, and accept what it has to offer. Take what you can learn, and use it to build something better. Here is the world. Now what will you do with it?

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Be Strong

There is a tendency these days for people to say things like, "I'm just being real," or "That's just how I am." That tendency is a lie. No one is just a certain way, and none of the ways we see presented with these excuses are actually necessary for the purpose being described. You can be honest without being mean. You can be strong without preying on the weak. You can be real without knocking down someone else's dream. Real strength allows the world to co-exist because real strength is not afraid of differences. Be strong, for real.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Overcoming Anxiety

There is no silver bullet for coping with anxiety. Understanding that can be the first step in learning to manage. Don't expect perfection, but work with the process. The second step is learning how to focus. What is here? What is now? What is real? If you can do this, if you can drill into these questions and let them be an anchor, you may find that they can help to bring you back to where you need to be. No solution is perfect, but somethings can help. Learn what they are and work with them.

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Turn Around

No matter how far you've walked down the wrong road, you can always turn around. You can cut across the pasture if you need to. You are not required to keep going in a direction that has turned out to no longer be working for you. Don't cling to a mistake just because you spent so much time making it. Let that regret go, strike off in a new direction, and build something better.

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Thursday, January 10, 2019

What Can Be

Might Have Beens are a dead end road. The past is gone and cannot be done again. The future, however, is an unwritten book, and the pen is in your hand. Look to the future, look to what you can do, rather than being worried about what you haven't done. The past is a teacher, not a jailer. Learn from it, let it go, and keep moving forward. What can you do today to make a better tomorrow?

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Never Too Late

You're not too old, and it's not too late. That dream you've been putting off? That plan you thought you had left behind. Start today and start with something new. The choice is yours, if you only choose to make it.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Change Means New Beginnings

Change can be one of the most terrifying things we experience in our lives, but that is often a matter of perspective. We are looking at the loss of the familiar, rather than the gaining of the new. Change is a chance to begin again, a chance to start over, and maybe even a chance to go in a new direction. A new beginning opens up many possibilities. Try to guide those possibilities, and see what you can achieve with a new beginning.

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Monday, January 7, 2019

Start Again

The mistakes you made yesterday are over. You may need to fix things from them, but you are not bound by them. Every time you wake up, you have a new day to begin again and do things differently. Take the opportunity and use it. Make the best you that you can make, and turn that into the best day that you can make. Every new beginning is a chance for everything.

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Saturday, January 5, 2019

#1 My Grilling Hat

Before we dive into today’s article, I have to point out that I have started and stopped writing this one several times now. I believe firmly that an important step in both addressing depression issues and making you a better you is confronting anything that might be getting in your way, eyes open and walking forward. As such, a recurring theme here will be discussing some of my own issues to examine what they mean to me and, hopefully, how I address them, using that to find broader applications that we can all put into play. It’s a grand plan, but grand plans are almost always easier in theory than in practice.

Sometimes, confronting personal issues can be quite difficult. That is pretty obvious in hindsight. If it were easy, none of this would be necessary. We would all be confronting our issues on a regular basis, and no one would need help from anyone else. I’m not sure what that would be like, but I am sure that it is not the reality we inhabit.

Consider this a courtesy warning: today’s article will be more deeply personal than what we have seen so far. The squeamish may want to look away now (though I do hope that you won’t). They won’t all be like this - I don’t think the human mind is quite that resilient - and I promise that there will even be articles that are pure happy, just not this one. We are here to examine the entire picture, and that includes the lows as well as the highs.

Now that you have been sufficiently warned and I have been sufficiently psyched up, let’s get on with the actual article, shall we?

I don’t post selfies very often. I have no philosophical objection to them. I’m just not very good at taking them. I do try occasionally. It can be a good way to share pictures with people you don’t get to see very often and, living as far from family as I do, that justifies a little extra effort from time to time. To be honest, I usually take several pictures, hate them all, and end up thrusting the camera or phone into the nearest unsuspecting hands, requesting help. Once in a while, though, I do get one that I will actually let out into the public.

The image attached to this article is an example of one that made it into the wild. It was a picture that I took while grilling a couple weeks ago, and it made it all the way to my Facebook profile. This prompted a couple people to ask about the hat.

Most people who know me are used to seeing me wearing a hat. If I’m outside, I’m usually wearing a hat, and I will even grab my hat for photos when inside, if that is an option. This hat, however, is visibly different from the others. It is rather crooked and dented up from copious amounts of handling, for one thing and, for another, it doesn’t really fit me. It’s too big. Still, if I’m grilling at home, this is the hat I will be wearing. It’s my grilling hat.

There is a reason for that.

You see, this was my dad’s hat, before it became my grilling hat. I snatched it from him once at a family reunion, and we made quite a few memories passing it around. This was back before I was routinely wearing hats, and was part of what led to my adopting that fashion. When my dad passed away in April 2013, my mom was good enough to let me take his hat as a keepsake. (Thank you Mom. I love you.)

If you knew my dad, you know that he loved to grill. It was one of the things he was known for when I was growing up. With that in mind, I wore his hat as a tribute the first time I grilled after I got home from the funeral. Then I wore it the next time, and the time after that. It quickly became a ritual. If I’m grilling at home, I’m wearing my dad’s hat. My grilling hat.

I miss my dad very much, as anyone who has lost a loved one will understand, but some parts of this are so hard to put into words.

We didn’t always get along, my dad and I. I was not always an easy teenager to handle, even in relative comparison to other teenagers, and this did not get better as I moved into my twenties. You might remember that it was in my early twenties when I began to deal with some of my own hangups, and that transition period is never a fun thing to share. My dad had his own issues to deal with, and neither of us was very good at talking about such things back then. He loved me, and I have never had a moment in my life when I doubted that (which I fully realize makes me far luckier than so many people), and I never had a moment when I doubted that I loved him, but we did have many moments where we didn’t really know how to say so. So many moments, in fact, that we spent a period of time not talking to each other at all.

We both grew as we aged (a trick that more people should probably try), and I believe that, in later years, we became closer than ever. Our time apart probably helped to teach us both what is more important but, if so, I don’t recommend using that method. That time apart is time that we will never have back so, if you can find a better way to recognize your priorities, use it. Don’t lose time that you don’t have to lose. Time is one of the most precious commodities we have, and we waste so much of it. Don’t waste time. You can’t get it back.

As things turned out, just as Dad and I were getting closer as people, we got further apart in physical space. I moved to Washington, where I spent the next several years, met the woman who is now my long-suffering and very supportive wife, and put in a lot of good time raising a family and living a good life. Then, due to realities resulting from the recession and employment requirements, we moved to Phoenix, where we currently reside.

We joked at the time of the move about this bringing us closer to family in Texas, and it did, in a strictly literal sense, but it didn’t really make any difference where it mattered. We were a solid thousand miles closer, but that still left a gap too wide to close nearly as often as we would have liked. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 2011, my dad invited us to join the family for a Caribbean cruise. Cruising was something he had developed a passion for in recent years, and he wanted to share that passion with the people he loved. To be honest, Heather and I were not entirely certain that we wanted to go - being on a boat for a week surrounded by strangers with no way out seemed pretty daunting to people who had never done anything like that before - but we knew what it would mean to Dad and, because of that, we never even considered declining. That turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made, not just because we had a great time and would do it again in a heartbeat if it were more affordable, but also because the memories we made were unbeatable. Seeing my dad in that environment he had come to love so much was amazing. His enthusiasm was infectious, and I will be smiling about that trip for the rest of my life.

There are days, many of them lately, when I need that memory.

We still live in Phoenix, so this is where we were when my dad had his heart attack. If you have never had such an experience then there is no way I can make you understand the impotence of being 1100 miles away from the most important man in your life while he is lying in Intensive Care, and there is nothing you can do about it. If you have been through such a thing then you understand, and you have my deepest sympathies. If the universe were fair, no one would ever need to understand such a thing. The universe is not fair, though. That is a truth you have to feel all the way down in your bones if you are going to find your balance in this life. The universe is not fair, and wishing otherwise is as useless as wailing at the sea. It is up to each and everyone of us to make the best of things despite that fact. That’s how we do this thing called life.

I know this; I teach this; but sometimes it is so very hard to practice this.

My mom and I spent time on the phone, trying to make plans, trying to determine the best course of action. We knew that I would go down to Texas, but we were having some trouble figuring out When. Dad’s condition was very touch and go, and often seemed like it could go either direction at a moment’s notice. We knew that he might not make it, but we also knew that if he did pull through then there would be some heavy recuperation time on the other end. I went back and forth with the idea of heading south right away, but there was a financial limit to how much time I could take away from work, and we wanted to make the best use of what time I could get. We hoped for the best, of course, and tried not to think too hard about the worst, while planning for it all the same. I wanted to see my dad, in case I didn’t get another chance, but I wanted to be there when he really needed me, if it came to the best, during his recovery. We waited and we tried to parse the information coming from the doctors. Things seemed to be looking up, and we had hope. Dad had another heart attack on April 26, 2013 and, though they did all they could do, the doctors were not able to save him from that one.

My dad died, and I was still in Phoenix, and I didn’t get to say goodbye.

That may have been the most difficult sentence I have written in my entire life.

I want to make something perfectly clear: no one is at fault for my not being there, and I don’t blame anyone. We all did the best we could with the information we had. At the same time, though, not being there is a regret that I have had to work through every single day since Dad died. Such is the paradox, sometimes, of being human. We are often masters at carrying guilt that doesn’t even rightly exist. I miss my dad every day, and every day I have to work through the pain, the guilt, and the regret that stems from not being there with him at the end. Some days have been easier than others, but none have been easy. I’m not convinced that any ever will be. Grief has its own rules, and the universe is not fair.

We will all deal with grief at one time or another. Most of us will do so many times over. If you live and you love, you will lose. There is no getting around that. Whatever lives will die, but whatever dies must also have lived. There is the trick. That is the secret. The loss that causes grief reflects the love that will help you make it through.

Sometimes the only answer you can give to grief is your tears, and that is perfectly fine. Cry the tears you need to cry because they are an honest tribute to the love you felt, the love you feel, and - if you are very lucky - the love you will always feel. Pay your tribute, and then remember why you are paying tribute. Remember those memories that shine so brightly, they can never fade. Remember what made them special, what made them happy, and let them remind you how to smile. That is how we get through grief, not one day at a time, but one smile at a time.

I can remember my dad at the grill while we played baseball in the backyard. I can remember how much family meant to him, and how much doing things with and for his family meant to him. My grilling hat is a touchstone for that memory. When I’m having a bad day; when I’m missing him so hard, it’s a physical pain; when I’m so angry with regret that the world blurs around me; at my lowest points, I can look at that hat and be instantly reminded of some of my highest points.

That is why I wear that hat that is crooked and dented and too big for my head. It makes me smile. Sometimes that’s the best reason there can be.

I love you Dad.

To close out 2018, and to welcome 2019, we've been spending the week highlighting the 7 most popular posts ever on Frequently Interrupted. Thank you for making "My Grilling Hat" the #1 most popular article on Frequently Interrupted. Those who have been with us from the beginning know that those post exemplifies why I started this blog in the first place, and this means so much to me that you support that. Thank you for coming along with us, and I hope you will continue this journey. Let's see what we can make of 2019, shall we?

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Friday, January 4, 2019

#2 Frequently Interrupted

There is an old joke that goes something like this:

Q – Does anyone in your family suffer from mental illness?

A – No, they all seem to enjoy it.

I do my very best to enjoy life. Some days that is more difficult to do, but I believe that those are the days when it is also more important. Life is meant to be lived. I don’t claim to have very many Answers, but I’m pretty sure about that one. I’m also fairly certain that the difference between surviving and living can be found in enjoyment. If you are enjoying life, you’re probably living it. If you are living life, you are probably enjoying it. If those sentences do not apply to you then you are probably just surviving.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, by the way. Sometimes “just surviving” is the best you can do at the moment, and doing your best always counts. The trick then is to survive until you can find a way past that moment. Keep moving forward and, eventually, you will find the sun again.

That part of your journey can often be made shorter if you have a good map.

It is my hope that this might become a good map. It will be a map-in-progress for a while, though. You and I will be cartographers, making notes and sketches as we explore this strange land. That’s right. I said “we,” because we will be exploring together. I’m not about to set off into this wilderness alone. We are going to use the buddy system and help each other out along the way.

A writer writes. Most of us are familiar with that one, but here is one that is just as true, though not as familiar: A writer is incomplete without a reader. While there are some people who write purely for their own edification, they are the exception, and they are very rare. We who write do so because we have a need to create and to express, but most of us also have a need to share. Sharing requires a “we”. Don’t worry, though. This is not the kind of sharing that requires two-way communication. I will be perfectly happy to “talk” while you “listen,” so to speak. If you want to talk, that’s fine too. We will certainly have outlets for that, it just won’t be required.

I write in a variety of formats, on a variety of subjects, both fiction and nonfiction. Sometimes there is so much of that variety that I get lost in my own head and nothing makes it to the page, but there is always a flow of words running around inside of my mind, searching for the exactly right other words with which to connect and create the exactly right sentence to form the exactly right paragraph … You get the idea.

I am fascinated by what makes things tick, and with how to improve on that ticking. I can spend hours thinking about how these pieces fit to those pieces, and what would happen if you replaced a section with that other section over there. I will spin it around in my head and examine it from every angle I can find, which will inevitably lead to more questions jumping off in more directions. If you plan it right (or wrong, depending on the day) this can go back and forth almost indefinitely.

I love to write, and I love to imagine how to make improvements, but I will be the first to admit that it is terribly easy for me to lose focus and “forget” that I am supposed to be working on something. Hence the title here, Frequently Interrupted. I’ve had so many false starts lately that I’ve stopped telling people about the starts because I fully expect them to become stops before they get anywhere meaningful. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but I can’t remember the last thing I wrote from beginning to end. Life has a way of happening without your permission, and interruptions are par for the course. In fact, I sometimes think that interruptions are the course. As John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” We all have plans for what we expect out of life, but when was the last time you talked to someone who said that life was turning out as planned?

The universe has a sense of humor, but it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether it is laughing with you or at you. My answer to that is, better safe than sorry. Laugh right back. You may not be laughing at the same thing, but you’ll both be laughing. This is me laughing.

I write, so I live. I live, so I win. I think that’s worth a laugh or two.

I opened this piece with a joke about mental illness. While some might scold me because “mental illness is no joke,” I promise you that it is a subject near and dear to my heart. It is, in truth, a major motivation in writing this. I have my own issues (which we will be covering at some length on a later date), and writing projects of this sort are one of the methods I use to turn “surviving” into “living”. One of the reasons I haven’t been writing is because my issues have been jumping around inside my head wearing hobnailed boots. Makes it difficult to concentrate. Makes it difficult to do much more than go from day to day, truth be told. It occurs to me that if I write about this I can hit two stones with one bird (we have very talented birds around here). I’m writing, which is, all by itself, a victory, and I am reinforcing the tools that I use to get back to living. In the process, I might even help someone else. Bonus!

We will be covering a variety of subjects, but the frame of reference will generally be “This is what I think makes a better me,” and, by extension, “This is what I think might make a better world.” I like to believe that we all want a better world. We just don’t always agree on how to achieve that. We work for it, though, even if we do face frequent interruptions. These are my thoughts on the matter, crooked as those thought might sometimes be. I make the world better by making me better. I make me better by helping the world be better.

I hope you will come along for the ride. We have a great deal of exploring to do, and that map won’t fill in itself. There are many places marked with Here There Be Dragons, but I don’t know. That might not be such a bad thing.

Let’s find out.

To close out 2018, and to welcome 2019, we are going to spend the week highlighting the 7 most popular posts ever on Frequently Interrupted. Follow along all week until Saturday, January 5, 2019 to find out what our most popular post to date is. Thank you for the support over the years, and we look forward to what the new years has to show.

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Thursday, January 3, 2019

#3 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.

To close out 2018, and to welcome 2019, we are going to spend the week highlighting the 7 most popular posts ever on Frequently Interrupted. Follow along all week until Saturday, January 5, 2019 to find out what our most popular post to date is. Thank you for the support over the years, and we look forward to what the new years has to show.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

#4 Sound And Fury

I am always somewhat amused when someone behaves poorly and then tries to excuse it with, “well, I was angry,” especially when it happens often. So? Do you think that you are the only person who has ever been angry? Do you lose all control whenever you have a surplus of some other emotion, or just this one? Should we treat you like a werewolf and lock you in a specially prepared room until the fit passes? Hide your children and small animals! Angry person coming through!

Anger might be an explanation sometimes, perhaps even a small portion of mitigating circumstances, but it is hardly ever a real excuse. You are still you - angry, happy, or otherwise - and your actions still belong to you as well. It is just as much up to you what you do with your anger as it is with anything else. You can control you, or you can let anger control you. The choice is yours.

It is not an easy choice, though. I understand that. Believe me, I do. I know a thing or two about being angry.

When I was a child, I was small, awkward, and painfully shy (none of which has really changed at all, aside from not being nearly as small as I get older). I was also usually too smart for my own good and had a temper that stayed just under the boiling point. Combine those ingredients and simmer in adolescent hormones. The resulting concoction is not recommended for human consumption. It’s not recommended for much of anything human, to be honest.

I’ve mentioned previously that I was something of a bully magnet, and this temper issue only made things worse. One of the popular games was to surround me chanting, “Temper, temper, temper,” until I exploded. Yes, it seems extremely childish now but … No, it was extremely childish, but we were children. Doing extremely childish things is part of the definition.

At the same time, though, I could see people in my life who were not children, but were still displaying the same troubling behavior. Being too smart for my own good often got me in trouble, but it did occasionally have benefits as well. I’ve always been a people watcher, and sometimes I even had the sense to connect the dots. I watched the adults around me who were struggling with anger issues and realized that wasn’t who I wanted to be. Even a child of ten or eleven can recognize damage as damage if it is overt enough, and I did have some fairly overt examples to drive home the point.

(Please bear with me while we take a small detour to address an important point of clarification. This is one of the areas where I disagree with some of the prevailing theories, and it will probably matter often in the long run, so I want to be perfectly clear before we go any further. My story is mine to tell, in all of its tragedies and triumphs, and I will tell that story in the manner I believe appropriate to the subject at hand. Sometimes that will require crossing over into stories that belong to other people in ways that are not flattering to anyone involved. The stories are what they are, but people are people, and people make mistakes. I am trying to help people, not harm them, and so I will intentionally avoid revealing identifying information whenever I believe that doing so could harm another person in my story. Whether or not they harmed me in the past is not relevant, regardless of some contrary beliefs in the field. I will certainly adjust my expectations based on observed behavior, but I will not brand anyone with a scarlet letter that can only hamper their journey forward. Thank you for understanding.)

While it would be many years and many additional decisions later before things would truly begin to take the shape they now have, that was the beginning. That was the first time that I took some part of my life that I didn’t like and said, “No more. I won’t be this way.” It was also good practice because, as it happened, this turned out to be one of the easier changes I have made.

It began with a decision: “That is not who I am going to be.” This, of course, was quickly followed by repeated failures. No matter what anyone might tell you, there is no easy way to change patterns of habit (which is even more true if you are a … pattern-oriented person, as many of us working on these issues tend to be, so good luck). You start, you stumble, you trip, you probably cuss and fume a bit while making many mistakes, and you keep going. Eventually you notice that you’re not struggling so much anymore. Even more eventually you may stop noticing completely. Ta-da! You just created a new behavior pattern.

For me, the first step was trying to ignore what was making me angry. In case you haven’t noticed by now, ignoring something almost never works, but it can sometimes be a useful starting point. If you ignore something for a while, you might come to realize that what you were ignoring didn’t matter all that much in the first place. This certainly will not always be true (and different situations will require different solutions) but when it is true, this realization can lead you to something better than ignoring. Ignoring is an active decision. Ignoring is something you have to actually do. When you realize there was nothing worth ignoring in the first place, you won’t move on to doing something else. You just won’t be angry. You will have entirely freed up emotional time and energy that can be put to better use.

That is all easy to say on paper, but please keep in mind that it took me years to go from one point to the other. There were many bumps along the way. To tell the truth, I am still on my way. I certainly haven’t reached a point where I don’t get angry, and I doubt I ever will, but I have found a place on the road where anger is less easy to come by and more easy to let go of, and where I, not my anger, am almost always the driving force behind my behavior.

Somewhere along the way I also learned something pretty amazing: Anger was never really the problem. Anger is natural. Anger happens. Like a thunderstorm, anger comes and then it goes and, like that storm, it can leave renewal in its wake. It can also sometimes leave destruction, so you do have to be careful, but most of the time, if you are careful, it’s no big deal. It is sound and fury, signifying nothing. Anger is usually only a problem when it is unnatural, when it is too quick, too hot, or held for too long.

Don’t be afraid of anger, but don’t let it be your master either. Learn from it, let it serve its purpose, and then let it go.

I know a bit about anger. Even today, after spending more than half of my life learning to not have a temper problem, I am still often angry. These days that anger usually comes because someone was cruel, destructive, or willfully ignorant, and then I try to put that anger to good use. I channel it into learning, into teaching, into being a better person, and into helping others find ways to be better. Then I let it pass. The world being what it is right now, that is a more common occurrence than I might like, but it is what it is. We do what we can with what we have. The rest is like a storm, and it will pass.

To close out 2018, and to welcome 2019, we are going to spend the week highlighting the 7 most popular posts ever on Frequently Interrupted. Follow along all week until Saturday, January 5, 2019 to find out what our most popular post to date is. Thank you for the support over the years, and we look forward to what the new years has to show.

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