Built for Tomorrow

Before the holiday break my wife and I were traveling on I-80 heading to Lincoln. As we got close to the city the traffic got worse. There were more semi trucks, more cars, and it was hard to drive with the cruise control on. Between Lincoln and Omaha the interstate becomes three lanes for each direction, but I-80 is just two lanes until then.

As we drove I had a weird idea and expressed it to my wife. “If we knew what traffic would be like today, like how many semis there would be on the road, would we have built the interstate that same? Would we have made a separate road or system for cars?”

If we could have predicted what traveling by car or truck would be now, would we have built our highways differently? It feels like cities just build on top of what is already there, and the highways and exits become a jumbled mess.

Higway at night
Image by mufaddalap from Pixabay

It seems it would be easier to have a hard restart on the planning of highways and roads. A redesign.

I know that is not possible, but I’ve been thinking about the issue with I-80 in a more personal and motivational way…

If you knew life was going to be the way it is right now, what would you have done differently in your younger years?  What would you have done to strengthen your skills, or prepare for the emotional cost today asks for? How would you have planned your life to be better prepared for right now?

No one can predict the future, I know that. Yet, I feel that too many people don’t consider the future in any of their decisions and then find themselves unequipped to handle their future life.

And the consequences are devastating. 

I see it in my students. I see it in adults. Even I have situations that are rough because of my decisions in the past. Again, we can’t predict the future. There will be unforeseeable situations that trip us up. Yet, as I watch my older children succeed, as I move into new chapters of my own life better equipped to handle what life asks from me, I believe that decisions today that are made with the future in mind will lead to better tomorrows.

There are so many factors to this mindset. I understand that, but even the smallest moment today can have a powerful impact later in life, be it days, years, or even decades. That impact can cause strife or help you reach your goals.

Now, I’m not saying every decision has to be broken down and analyzed for days before making it, but sometimes the simple question of how the decision will help you become the person you want to be or help you reach your goals is enough to help you make the best decision for the future.

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AI Doesn’t Like Blueberry Muffins

First a warning, this blog post will ramble because it was written by me… it is centered around the idea of what Artificial Intelligence’s (AI) effect is on our society.

The spark for this post centers around a number of articles about ChatGPT and its ability to write essays for students. One article used the example of a literary criticism essay covering the works of Emily Dickinson’s work. ChatGPT did a fine job, but of course it did. 

Honestly, there are only so many ways to write a literary criticism over a single poem. I actually use poetry to introduce the literary criticism essay. We discuss a number of poems, breakdown how elements like similes, personification, even rhyming is used in the poems. Then the students write their essays. At the heart of a literary criticism is the idea of teaching the reader something about the poem.

So, many of the students’ essays read about the same. The introductions and conclusions are different, yet the body of the essays center around what anyone can learn if they analyzed the poem themselves.

I’m not especially worried about ChatGPT writing essays, or even its own poetry. AI will never be able to write a narrative essay, at least not a real one. A narrative essay is about the meaning of a moment for the writer.

AI doesn’t deal with the complexity of living. It will never be hungry. Or feel the joy of a great meal. AI will never open an unexpected present that fills their heart. Or deal with the bad mood of a loved one.

I do worry about us giving our lives over to technology in general. 

I see too many students just consuming their screens. At the moment it is TikTok. They watch all these people doing different things, while they just sit there. I actually encourage students to make their own videos (yes, I’ve been in a few). 

Also, the idea of just letting technology tell us what we should listen to or watch next; from products on Amazon to a playlist Spotify thinks we would like. Yes, we do tend to enjoy certain genres of music, but there is so much of our human experience connected to media that an algorithm can never give us a perfect recommendation.

As an example, I will listen to a song or watch a movie that I do not like because someone I care about likes the movie or song. I usually find something interesting from the media, even if it doesn’t get saved to a playlist.

Yet, we can just let technology live for us… that is what I am afraid of.  What’s so funny is how we keep advancing technology to be more human. We marvel at how close we can get AI to write like Edgar Allen Poe, yet here we are trying to be human but addicted to the technology.

What I know for sure is that AI will never enjoy the tradition of making blueberry muffins for breakfast every Sunday morning. And that I will always write my own stuff.

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The Story of Objects

I’ve been thinking about a small anecdote from Joy Harjo’s book Poet Warrior: A Memoir. She shares the importance of getting a cooking pot when her mother died. It was a pot that had been handed down for generations. It was the only thing she wanted.

OK, I’m going to come back to the cooking pot.

I could not find the original, but as I read Joy Harjo’s book I was reminded of an article that discussed how the digital age was eliminating natural artifacts of our lives. Love letters, books, old jackets, and other things future generations might find that would build a connection to us through those artifacts.

Back to the cooking pot. (I’m going to paraphrase because I have returned the book to the library.) The reason Joy wanted the cooking pot was for the stories in the pot. From having full bodied stews, to just water and maybe some carrots. How it held a flower and how each mother, for generations, had the pot in their hands. The pot was an artifact for Joy to stay connected with her family tree.

In her book, she explained how objects hold stories.

Artifacts tell stories.

But what objects do we have in our lives? What objects have we transferred our lives into? Or is everything just a bunch of 1’s and 0’s… stored in a rectangle that we replace every two years because we cracked the screen or we just want the newest color?

How many photos are stored in the cloud? When was the last time you looked at them?

I love my phone. I use technology everyday. But what am I leaving for my children? What will future generations know of me? 

This post is not about getting rid of technology, but a call to action to create real artifacts for your family. Pass on the stories of your life through letters, through pictures, through whatever artifacts that are intertwined with your day. They will tell the story of you, even after you and I are gone.

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A Blueberry Muffin, a Podcast, and a Word Walk into a New Year

January 1, 2023. 

A Sunday. 

That means we had blueberry muffins for breakfast today. We also had scrambled eggs and sausage patties. An addition we added years ago, but the tradition’s foundation hasn’t changed. And that is important as thousands of New Year’s resolutions are being made today, and thousands of them will be broken during the year. 

On Tuesday, the next episode of The Creative Moment will be published. We talked about goals and resolutions. As we talked I had a thought that I shared during our conversation. That we are OK letting ourselves down. We will work harder at not letting others down than we do with our own personal goals. That is crazy to think about, yet thousands of resolutions will not last even the first month of this year.

Small Canvas and easel.

Later tonight we will be setting our word for the year. This will be the ninth year of this tradition. This year we are using small canvases to create an artistic expression of the word. We also have a small easel to hold the artwork. My word this year is Moment. The idea is based on being fully in the moment this year. Not to be on my phone, not to be worried about things until I need to be, to feel the ups and downs of every day.

The base of the idea does come from one of my favorite books, Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and I have blogged about some of the ideas expressed in the book before (“I took out the trash today”). Maybe it is the fact that I feel time is running faster, but I want to be fully in the moments of my life, not to let myself down in 2023. That’s not a tradition I want to set…

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Christmas Letter 2022

It is early in the afternoon. 2022 is almost over. My children are building a gingerbread house on their own (but I’m not too far away) and I am reflecting while listening to the top 40 countdown on the XM 80’s channel (1988).

Been thinking about what my word should be for 2023. I am deeply grateful for the connections I’ve built this year and am excited to see what the next year will bring. So I decided to write a musical Christmas letter.

I wanted a live performance because it symbolizes the importance of others in our belief of so many aspects of our lives. Honestly, even our belief in ourselves is affected by others, whether they help us or try to tear us down. But we also have that responsibility for others. I know I have said it before, but life is a team sport. And magical things happen when a team believes in each other… (and yes, I am referencing the Vikings!)

It is OK if you stopped reading and just danced while the song played. There are a number of reasons for including this song in my letter. First, it is my favorite song this year. I used it for the first episode of my podcast, For Love of Lyrics. Which is the second reason I need it in my letter.

This year has been filled with different creative endeavors. Dante and I started a podcast, The Creative Moment

I was a guest on Josh Grant’s YouTube show Diabolic Shrimp.

I was also on Dr. Ingram’s show Quintessential Listening: Poetry Online Radio.

I have done a few poetry lessons on Twitter for Move Me Poetry.

I also released my first collection of short stories, The Other Notebook: Some Spooky Stories.

It has been a great year for my creative side. 

This last song is a reminder for me to chase my dreams. The song is actually from 1998 but was part of the movie Sing 2. Which is a pretty good movie… about chasing your dreams. Throughout the rough spots, doubt, and frustration, I know that part of the meaning of this life is in pursuing our dreams. It ignites our souls, gives us direction, and allows us to discover who we really are.

I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday!

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The Weight of Living

I am unsure how this blog post will go, it might end up being poetic, and if so, cool.

Today I had a workshop as a dual credit instructor. I hurried after school to the college to make it on time. I was mostly excited to see my former colleagues that I worked with for three years. I sat patiently through the presentations, completed the tasks I needed to be ready for the second semester, then got to talk to my previous coworkers for a few minutes before I headed home.

I put on my coat, slung my computer bag around my shoulder and chest then headed down the hallway. It was quiet in the building. I was thinking of my time working with the college. At the end of the hallway was a row of large windows. The doorway was around the corner to the left. It was dark outside, so I could see a shaded reflection of myself walking. My footsteps soft but distinct because I was the only one at the time in the hallway.

I stopped three fourths of the way. As a wave of melancholy washed over me I stared at my reflection in the window. My face shadowed, my shoulders still broad, my computer bag on my hip, hands stuffed in the pockets of my coat. A stance I recognized because I’ve stood like that for decades… suddenly 51 years of living fell on my spirit.

It was only a few seconds, but it felt like eternity as my heart somehow felt every minute of my life pulsate through my chest into my mind. On one hand I felt grounded to the moment, my feet securely holding me up, but on the other hand I felt the wind of purpose, of meaning, blow right through me, as if I was the reflection I was staring at.

What had I really accomplished in 51 years? 

Too many times I had been on the cusp of doing, what I felt would be great things, only to turn the wrong corner and start all over.

My name felt fragile at that moment.

I understood that on the scale of time, I wouldn’t even be recorded.

I took a step forward, the melancholy turning into deep rooted sadness with each step. The darkness outside eclipsed my reflection as I approached the corner to turn toward the exit. The winter wind reminded me that I was here.

I texted my wife to let her know I was on my way home.

When I got home my youngest daughter wanted to show me her new shoes and to dance in them with me.

I found myself lost again, but this time in the music of my daughter’s laughter (it was hard to spin her in new shoes on carpet).

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Tigger

I took chemistry my junior year in high school. Mr. Wortham was my teacher. He had never had me as a student, I never had him as a teacher until that class. A few weeks into the class he gave me my nickname, Tigger.

I entered his class, probably louder then I needed to be, maybe singing a song or talking with my best friend Scott. I know I said hello to Mr. Wortham, I did that with all my teachers. He was at his station at the front of the class when he said, “Jamey, you remind me of that Winnie the Pooh character that is always bouncing around.”

“Tigger?” I asked.

“Yeah, him. You are always bouncing around this class.”

I smiled at my new nickname, Tigger.

It stuck, too. Teachers would use it. Girlfriends would address letters to me using Tigger.  In fact, all six of my children got some version of a Tigger doll when they were little. Through speech, my oldest son has connected with past colleagues of mine, and they ask him if I still sing in the hallways. 

Even though my personal journey has some rough and dark moments (if you are a fan of my poetry you know this), I have always had a bouncy personality with others. Except lately…

I recently was a guest on Joshua Grant’s YouTube show, Diabolical Shrimp, and I had to bring an item for show and tell. I couldn’t find the first item I wanted to bring (you’ll have to watch the show to hear about that one). I thought about bringing one of my children’s plush Tigger toys. As I decided on which one, I thought about how I don’t fit the nickname anymore. I wondered why?

Was it simply age?

No, because at home I am still bouncy, still high energy. Even if I do like to take a nap on the weekends.

Had I changed?

Yes, that was part of it. I still make sure I treat others well. Even with my students, I do not raise my voice often. I try to make other people’s day better. 

But I am more guarded. I have the metaphorical wall around my heart for protection.

What happened?

The last decade.

 I am not going to go into all of the events that hurt me in the last 10 years. There are snippets of that throughout my blog, but this post is about being Tigger. I have been hurt on all levels of my life; career, goals, and personal. And hurt in such different ways that it has drained me. I have stopped bouncing.

At the end of this post is a mini episode of Winnie the Pooh where Tigger is not allowed to bounce. Here is a screen shot from the episode.

Outside my home, I have to admit this is what I feel like inside. The last years had some serious wounds, but other hurts are just the constant nicks and cuts that continue to add bricks to my mindset to guard my heart.

The root question is do I want to be Tigger again in public? 

Maybe a worse question is, can I be that way again?

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This is a Low Point

4:51 a.m. today.

I got my Wordle in 4 guesses.

I check my email to find a message from a flash fiction submission. It is my fourth rejection email in two days, for poetry and short stories.

My mood is not good this morning. Recently I have been seriously considering giving up. I talk about it a little in The Creative Moment podcast, “The Idea of Success”.  That was a couple weeks ago, now this morning, I feel like giving up the dream.

I can’t give up writing, that is who I am. Poetry is the way I think. I will continue to jot down ideas on scraps of paper. Compose verses in notebooks. But the dream of being known as a poet, as a writer is fading. 

Now, I know this is where people would give all kinds of motivational quotes and stories of authors who published their first book in their sixties. I know all of that. I know Stephen King’s story about his wife digging the story “Carrie” out of the trash. (Yes, I know he was an English teacher, too).

But this is a low point. Everyone has them. And low points are powerful moments. Maybe choices shouldn’t be made at this point, but we shouldn’t discard the emotions and self-evaluation that comes at these moments. 

Questions / thoughts I have to work through:

I might not be a good writer or poet.

Maybe I’m not spending enough time on my craft.

Maybe I’m not spending enough time promoting my works.

What are my goals regarding my writing career?

Feelings come and go. Right now, I feel defeated. I am at a low spot. But it doesn’t mean this moment can’t be a positive for me or for anyone that is at a similar point in life. A low point doesn’t feel good, but if you see it as an opportunity to self-reflect, prioritize goals, and spend a little time working with the moment, you might find you can climb higher tomorrow.

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Miles to Muffins

For the first time in a while, everyone was around the table for breakfast on Sunday morning. There was only one blueberry muffin left, the eggs and bacon were all gone. And the morning was filled with conversation.

These moments are becoming rare, and I know that next year that having everyone home will be even less frequent. This is what bittersweet feels like. It is a mix of joy, reconnecting, laughter, pride, and knowledge of time running out, that scares me, to be honest.

Even though my word was Miles for this year (and I have traveled some miles this year), I sat thinking about how many miles my children have traveled this year. Especially my three older ones. 

One of the things I am most proud of in this life is building a home. It has not been easy at times. But home is the center of our life as a family. Like a wheel, the house is the hub. My children are spokes. Their lives will take them away from the house, but the love we share keeps us connected; the rim that allows us to travel through this life. 

As we started to put dishes away, I joked that the kitchen was going to be quiet once everyone was out of the house. My oldest son said, “You still got a long way to go,” as he looked at his youngest sister (age 9). I smiled at him because I knew deep down that I would be a dad for all of them, no matter how many miles they travel to come back home for blueberry muffins.

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Blueberry Muffins and My Feet

As is tradition, I was mixing the batter for the muffins this morning at the kitchen island when I had a strange thought. I happened to look down at my feet. They were both perfectly centered in the tile on our kitchen floor. 

Strange I know, but stay with me. I asked my youngest daughter to grab the measuring tape. We measured the length and width of where I was standing. Roughly 290 square inches of space. My place in the world, when I’m standing, totals 290 square inches. 

Then I looked up on Google that there is roughly 57,000,000 square miles of land on earth. My feet take up .000000000007 of the space on this earth. (If I got my math right). Even if I got the math wrong, my body, my heart, my life does not take up much of the space in this world.

It is, at first, sad to consider how insignificant one individual is. The space we stand on is so small. But then I had to move my feet toward the kitchen counter where the muffin tin was and my perspective changed. 

I get to place my feet anywhere in the  57,000,000 square miles of this world. I can place them on a sidewalk in Chicago. I can walk a beach in Australia. I can play basketball with my son or volleyball with my daughters on the same court. I can stand on a stage in front of a microphone to share my poetry.

Life is about where we stand, where we take up our small 290 square inches of this world. And even more importantly who’s feet join us in our little part of the world…

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