Life has been busy, to say the least. There are some heavy moments going on, and sometimes you just need a soundtrack to get through the days. Honestly, I like writing these types of post. Music is an important element in my life, has been since I was about seven years old. I had a basement bedroom and I played the radio all the time to help with my fear of the dark.
But now I have a fear of time. Of losing important people. The first song is from one of my mom’s favorite bands, Simply Red. The song is in honor of her as she deals with some serious health issues.
The second song has a little bit of a story. My wife and I did a quick visit home to see my mom a couple of weeks ago. We listened to some of the music we use to listen to when we were younger making road trips. One of the albums was Jo Dee Messina’s first album with the song, “Heads Carolina, Tails California”. On the way home I was channel surfing the radio and Cole Swindell’s song, “She Had Me At Heads Carolina” came on. We had never heard the song (or artist) before. But it made us smile:
I have adventured out of my comfort zone with my poetry. I participated in a slam poetry contest where the winner would represent the state of Nebraska at Nationals this summer. I worked on my poems and my delivery for months. Felt like I had a real chance at winning. I didn’t make finals… I haven’t felt the pain of defeat like that in a long time. I know that I improved in different aspects of my poetry, for that I am grateful. But maybe it’s just everything combined, I feel like I won’t ever achieve my writing goals. “Born and Raised” by John Mayer reflects this emotion…
Makes me dance and sing
Now, life still has joy and wonderment to it. This next song has been my jam for awhile now, “Remind Me” by Tom Grennan just makes me dance… and my daughters hate it when it comes on my playlist when I am washing the dishes because I have to stop to sing and dance to the song (and maybe to tickle them or get them to dance with me). This is also the first song I used for my podcast For Love of Lyrics.
Life, when fully lived, is an adventure filled with days that hurt the heart from joy and sadness. But there is only so much time we are given. We spend too much time on things and people that don’t really add value or depth to our hearts. Yes, I have regrets, but I also still have big dreams for the time I have left. I try to add something to everyone’s life that I get to be a part of… and I am trying to simply love more… so this last song, “Where the Heart Is” by Haevn is my little bit of inspiration for your day!
Just a forewarning… this post will probably be all over the place, and that’s OK.
Today is May 1, 2023. I am starting a photography challenge for this month. In January I completed a drawing challenge. February I wrote a letter or email to someone each day. March I did yoga everyday (which I need to get back to). April was poetry month, so I wrote a poem each day. You can read this years (and past years) poems at my blog, Creative Corner.
I also have a reading challenge with my youngest. We are reading every Curious George book. We have read 25 books so far.
These challenges are part of my word for the year, Moment. The challenges gives me a focus for each month, but really remind me that life is more than a screen or the routines we have. Life is a crazy mix of heartache, joy, work and excitement to live.
Even with the hard emotions provide a depth to the moments in our lives. However fragile they are…
Last month I sat holding my mom’s hand. We quietly talked, but lost more in the precious minutes we were together, hand in hand. She is fighting a losing battle against cancer. And I am sharing our moment as a reminder that nothing stops time and that no notification on a phone will fill your heart. An icon is not the same as feeling the warmth of a loved one’s hand.
And that no matter the outcome, chase your dreams. I competed in a poetry slam last weekend. The winner would represent Nebraska at nationals this summer. I practiced every day. I got feedback from a number of people. I worked on my cadence, my pauses, and voice inflections.
I didn’t make it to the final round.
I drove home hurt, mad, and disappointed. I saw this as a chance to do something really different with my poetry, but also to finally be seen as a poet. Didn’t happen. So now what?
First, I improved my skill set. A lot! From understanding pauses and inflections, to writing the ideas and words in a way that flow well together, to create natural breaks. I am thankful for that.
Second, it was a cool moment. I shared poetry with people who had never heard of me before. After my first poem, an audience member got up from their seat to tell me that they enjoyed the poem.
Third, I was an example for my children. I want them to go after their dreams. Plus, nothing is guaranteed, no matter how much you work. The hugs they gave me when I got home were better than winning.
So today is May 1st. I posted my picture for this month’s challenge. I texted my family. Called my internet provider about a problem. Handling the last little details for graduation. I’m living life, one moment at a time… the difference is that I am trying to feel the moment, be aware of the moment, and not just let time go by…
This winter, shortly after a snow storm, my wife and I were driving home. On our normal route home there is a small stream that originates from a lake that is the center of a nearby park. It runs through a culvert under the road winding next to farmland and houses. Ducks and geese use the stream for whatever ducks and geese do as they enjoy the day. But this was a winter day. A white, freshly fallen snow, winter day.
I was driving slowly because the road was covered. As we approached the area of the stream, we both noticed a flash of red, stark against the snow. There was no traffic so I slowed down even more to watch a fox playing on the ice covered stream. The fox jumped, circled, bounded a few times. It was playing something. Its coat was beautiful against the white plumps the fox made as it enjoyed the moment.
It was joy personified.
After a few seconds the fox disappeared from our view as we continued home. I did think that it would have been a cool picture, but in all honesty we would have ruined the moment if we had stopped and tried to take the photo. In fact we probably wouldn’t have gotten a photo anyway.
Instead of a photo, I have the memory. And when I drive past the stream, I think about that fox, about the joy it had playing in the snow. And I’m glad I didn’t ruin it by trying to take a photo of the moment.
You have heard songs about it, read other articles or blog posts about it, heck, you might have an inspirational poster about it. About not taking today for granted.
But sometimes life gives each of us dots to reinforce ideas. And life has been giving me a ton of dots to connect lately, even as I sit down to write this post, the first song to play on my “Writing” playlist was “Numbered Days” by Eels, not kidding. (The song will be at the end of this post for you to enjoy.)
Earlier this week my mom had a sudden medical emergency. She is doing well, back home. We are still waiting to understand the reason for the situation, but things are good now. but a moment like that sets your mind racing with so many “what if” questions. Some are based in the moment, while other questions center on the future. Every minute becomes a question mark.
Honestly, tomorrow is a question mark. Really, the next minute of my life is a question mark. Life can change in a second. Life can turn 90 degrees with a decision and be off in a new direction.
We all know this, we all have experienced these moments that for a while challenge us to be more grateful for our family and friends. To make that decision to go after a dream we put away for tomorrow. I do it, too. Then life falls into a routine.
This morning we had blueberry muffins for breakfast. There was scrambled eggs and sausage. We talked about the college basketball upsets. If you are a regular reader you know this is what we do on most Sundays. This is a routine, and I share this because there are great moments in the routine of our lives. These types of moments give us joy and love, even if my girls hate my energy in the morning; they know I love them when I call them “Sunshine Bears” when I see them in morning.
But there is a depth to our lives we let go of when we live as a routine. When we waste time just going through the motions, or sit and just watch other people live life on social media. Yes, today is a gift. I was getting into the car after track practice on Friday. The sky was a mess, a small rain storm was approaching from the north, but the south sky was blue and filled with little white fluffy clouds that were shifting their shapes with the wind. I was hit with a deep thought…
I have never seen the same cloud shape ever in my life, and I never will. Think about that for a moment.
Yes, I will see the same kind of skies, but each cloud is a unique aspect of the moment. The wind changes the edges of the clouds, like it does for us if we pay attention to how life is giving us this moment to breathe, to love, to feel the edges of ourselves, stark and sharp, against time.
Life may be hard right now for you. You may be experiencing the greatest moment ever right now. I don’t know because we all have our own time in this life. It is a gift, to be opened and to be lived. Tomorrow is a question mark, but right now should be an exclamation mark!
This weekend is girls state basketball. The girls team from my current school and the team from a past school are both playing in their class championship games today. Regular readers know that my second son played in the state championship game two years ago.
Today will be filled with joy and heartbreak. Only one team in each class ends their season with a win. One team will fall just short of a state title. But today will be remembered by all who were there. And that is what makes these moments important, for two reasons.
But before I dive into those reasons I want to share a snippet from the movie, The Replacements.
Athletics are the most common example of achieving greatness, but greatness is expressed in many different ways in life. From being a strong mother, to writing your first poem and sharing it at an open mic night. This is the first point to consider about the moments in our lives that allow us the chance to do something great, whether we win or lose (and yes, we don’t always end up on top). As Coach Jimmy McGinty says in the video clip:
No matter the outcome, these moments stay with us. They give us more than memories, they give us depth of emotion and meaning to our lives. The experiences teach us about how well we have worked for our goals. Even through heartbreak, great moments take us to a richer level of life that fills our hearts, shows us who we are and what we are capable of. These moments are a joyful contrast to the routine of life. Each time we get a chance at doing something great we add a string to the fabric of who we are.
The second aspect to great moments is the connection to others. Today, the stands are filled with family, friends, and fellow students. Coaches will walk the sideline, student managers will fill water bottles. No matter what team wins the state title, there will be hugs for both teams. All seniors will be awash with the knowledge that they just played their last high school game. There will be tears, win or lose.
Each person involved will have their own personal memory and emotions today. The same holds true for any great moment. Great moments are shared. They build a bond with everyone involved. Stories will be shared years from now, pictures brought out to reminisce with. Great moments build relationships, even community. Our lives are not lived alone, we share this life in the routine but we experience it, together, through the great moments.
A few days ago we were talking about karma, about why it seemed that people who do bad things always seem to win. To be popular. Last night you opened up about the friendship situation. I connected the dots.
Junior high is a minefield. It is hard to judge what the next step will bring. Add the state of our society, social media, and the challenge of just being a teenager, and it feels like the world is in chaos.
There is nothing I can do or say that will change the outside world. I hope that maybe this open letter can help you navigate the next couple of years and help you discover the beautiful soul that you are.
First, friendship is one of the foundations of who we are. But it is also fickle and can actually be destructive. Our friendships make or break us. Even after all these years, and our own rough spots, my best friend is an important part of my life. But many of the other friends I’ve had over the years are not a part of my everyday life. Right now, it feels like you should have a huge group of friends. I understand the need to feel “liked” by everyone. To be honest, even adults have that desire, but real friendship is a serious relationship. And it is hard sifting through the fake and real relationships in junior high, let alone the rest of your life.
Real friendship is earned. If you find yourself asking for friendship, that person is not a friend. Let them go. Know that honest friendship builds you up, supports you. You should never have to ask to be loved. This is a hard truth, but it’s true.
Second, guard your heart, but never close it. This is hard to write as a father because I want this world to be a beautiful place for you. But there is so much pain and hurt in this world caused by people who want to do bad things. Oh how I wish this wasn’t so because there is such beauty and joy to experience in this life. We have experienced it! But our hearts are the most important aspect of who we are. Our hearts are strong, yet can be damaged with a single word or action… and that damage is hard to heal. I know, even now I deal with the pain everyday from the wounds people inflicted on me.
Guard your heart, just don’t close it.
Third, mom and I are always here. Home is our sanctuary. If you simply need a hug, find me. I love you.
Today the snow was perfect for making snowballs. After my walk I took on two of my daughters in a snowball fight. We used the piles of snow on each side of the driveway as our defense. I lost. In my defense, I didn’t have gloves, so I had to take breaks to warm my hands.
Afterwards we ate Dilly Bars. We stood among the shattered pieces of snowballs on the driveway, soaking in the sun and just talking.
In the midst of this crazy time we are living in, we enjoyed a Sunday afternoon. For those who are regular readers of this blog, you know my word for this year is “Moment”. This afternoon was a great moment. It was a moment of living, of fun, of family.
I don’t know if it is because of my word, or just me getting older, but I notice that what too many people call living is just enduring life, or simply being entertained by a screen. Even in the simplest moments, there is a depth of joy to be experienced that you can’t get from a screen.
The snow is perfect for a snowball fight today. And Dilly Bars can be held with frozen fingers.
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.
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.
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.