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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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…
We spend time and energy working on and developing different types of relationships. Family, spouse, and friends get the most of our time and love, but there are some relationships that are just as important, even if the relationship is built on the smallest foundation. Recently, life has reminded me how important the smallest relationships are for building a joyful life. Let me tell you about a stranger, a cashier, and a person from the congregation of our church. Three cool dots that connect to show the power of a small relationship.
Today we attended a parade in Fairfield, NE, for the town’s 150th birthday celebration. My wife’s parents were the grand marshals because they are the oldest living couple in Fairfield. The parade was a mix of old tractors, cars, the local school band and other fun floats.
There was also a lot of candy!
The whole parade took over an hour. I sat next to a stranger. Yet, we had a great time watching the kids run out to get the candy, appreciating some classic cars, and had a funny moment when a local BBQ restaurant’s float passed us and I commented it would have been great if they threw out some ribs for us big kids. When her daughter showed up later in the parade (she played in the band earlier) she told her daughter of our idea of the ribs for us big kids. We laughed again.
When the parade ended we went our separate ways with a smile and an “enjoy the rest of the day” goodbye. That’s it. But for an hour we enjoyed the community feel of the event, making a small connection that generated some laughs and enjoyment of the day.
The second small relationship is based on dad jokes. No kidding. We usually shop for groceries on Saturday mornings. We shop at a few different places for different things. At our local grocery store there is a cashier that I tell a dad joke to every time I see him. In this case I do know his name (just not going to share it here), and have learned a few things about him. This routine started during the pandemic. It started just to ease the tension everyone was feeling as we were trying to figure out life with COVID affecting our lives. And now it is a small relationship that brings a shot of happiness to both of our lives, and I learned I am “the dad joke guy”.
Last week we had to pick up some milk on Wednesday. On the previous Saturday he did not work, so I didn’t get to tell him my joke. When my wife and I walked into the store I saw that he was working, so I approached him to share with him my newest dad joke. It was a good one. We laughed. My wife and I told him that we missed him on Saturday. He replied that his hours were changing because of school but knew that I had been in the store because his brother was working that day and had texted him that “the dad joke guy” was in the store.
This small relationship is more personal, it brings a sense of routine and joy to the week. It will and is changing because he has major life changes happening as he moves into more major life moments. But for now, we will share a good (sometimes bad) dad joke each week that adds a little happiness to our lives.
Now the third small relationship is with someone that attends our church only on Saturdays. As a family we attend church either Saturday night or Sunday morning, kind of depends on our schedule. When churches opened back up during COVID, we attended Saturday nights for a long time. This is when this small relationship started. And it might be the most powerful of my small relationships, and we don’t even know each other’s names.
During a Catholic service there is a moment when the congregation says “Peace be with you” with each other. During the worse part of the pandemic we waved to each other instead of shaking hands. Durning the first service that the church included this moment, a gentleman was in front of us. At that time we gave each other an awkward wave and said, “Peace be with you,” quietly. For a number of weeks this gentleman sat close to us, so we would wave to each other during this part of the ceremony. He always attends church by himself. He finds a seat right as the service starts, so one week he was not sitting near us. I kind of looked around for him and saw him a few rows back in another section. We made eye contact, smiled, and waved hello. Then during the Peace Be With You part of the ceremony, we waved and mouthed, “Peace be with you.”
Almost two years later, we now find each other through the congregation to say hello at the start and make sure we wave and say “peace be with you” later in the service. Lately we have been attending Sunday morning services, but tonight (Saturday) we attended church and he walked in right at the beginning as usual. I saw him first and my heart was filled as I watched him look around the congregation until he saw me and my family. We smiled. We waved hello. Then later in the service we had to lean a little but still made eye contact, waved, and mouthed, “Peace be with you”. Both of us were smiling, it had been a few weeks since we had seen each other.
I don’t know his name. I doubt he knows mine. We never talk after church. But this small relationship is a powerful one because it gives me, and I think it is the same for him, a moment to know that I am here in this life. That I matter to someone else in this world, that my presence makes them happy simply because we are both here, living this life together, however small our relationship might be.