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Joy of Life

The most important lesson I have learned in half a century is that there is joy in every day. I can have a horrible day at work but come home and have a dance party with my kids. This lesson took years to understand, and takes strength to accomplish. I have to leave the bad day at work to fully enjoy dancing with my kids.

I know that this list will not surprise anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis, I’ve touched on these in different ways through the years. But hopefully this post will remind you of the things that bring you joy. 

Number 5

I love learning. School was my escape from all the craziness I was going through. Even when I was the new kid so many times growing up. Each school provided opportunities to grow. For the last couple of years I have participated in the challenge to read 60 books in a year. I don’t get to 60 every year, but I spend the year learning and I love that.

Number 4

When I thought about the role walking has had in my life, I thought back to all the times my best friend and I would walk by the river. How, especially in junior high, we walked all over town. And how I was the only senior that had to walk to school everyday… the consequence of me wrecking a car my junior year. Walking is good exercise, but the joy is in sharing with others. I take the girls on snack walks, we have nature walks, there is a certain joy to sharing the moment and world with others as I walk.

Number 3

One of the best parts of being a dad is watching my kids in activities: elementary concerts, basketball, soccer, and science fairs to name just a few of the activities I’ve spent enjoying, my wife at my side, and sometimes a coffee in my hand. It matters to me, in part because my father never saw me compete in anything. I swear I tear up every time one of my kids sees me in the crowd and they wave or nod their head at me.

Number 2

I park the minivan facing the lake. My wife and I people-watch as we enjoy a Blizzard. Cookie dough for my wife. I usually will try the special flavor of the month. These small moments intertwined joy into life. And if we pay attention, not getting lost in the routine of life, every day is filled with these small moments. Talking with my kids before bed. Letting them help make blueberry muffins. Holding hands with my wife as we watch Miami Vice. Yes, I believe joy is the thread that determines the way we live.

Number 1

This is no surprise for anyone. Writing brings a level of joy that ignites my soul. When the thoughts in my head and feelings stirring in my heart find their way to the page, I feel powerful. I feel complete. I feel vulnerable because the words I write are honest reflections of who I am. 

Thanks for sharing your time with me as I start the next half century. Do something that brings you joy today… because if we are not here to feel joy, to love others, to sing badly to our favorite songs… then I don’t know the meaning of life.

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Top Five Songs

Faithful readers know that I enjoy using music (and other videos) in my posts. I will share a mini soundtrack or look at life events through songs (“20 Years of Marriage”). So, the idea of my top five songs was a fun idea, until I tried to decide on the songs!

I thought about different ways to present the top five: by favorites, connections to memories, and even by the depth of the lyrics (an idea that I am saving for a later post). For this post I decided to share a favorite song from each decade that reveals something about me. A creative way to show you different sides of me. So, grab some headphones and get ready to listen to some good songs and get to know me a little bit.

70s

Artist: Gerry Rafferty

Song: “Baker Street”

I will send a photo of the radio display to family and friends when this song comes on the radio. The lyrics for this song, especially the first verse, connect with me. The underlying idea that life will be better tomorrow is a universal theme, and so is the cost of living that way.

80s

Artist: Living Colour 

Song: “Cult of Personality”

This decade was tough to choose. Music is a big part of the teen years. Listening to songs before games, jamming out in the car while cruising, and in the 80’s making mixtapes (“Throwback: Mixtapes”). When this song came out, I was an instant fan. You could find me singing this song in the hallways of school (I still sing in the hallways).

90s

Artist: Prince

Song: “The Love We Make”

Anyone who truly knows me knew Prince would make this list. Choosing the decade and the song has been the hardest aspect of this list. Prince has some seriously deep spiritual songs. “The Love We Make” is the closest song I know that reflects my own spiritual views. I had to share a live version of the song.

2000s

Artist: Lupe Fiasco

Song: “Superstar”

I would sing this song at bedtime to my oldest daughter. It was on the playlist for my track team when we would have to practice indoors. The song’s lyric, “If you are what you say you are, a superstar, then have no fear…” is a perfect line for all the activities I was involved in during the 2000s.

2010s

Artist: Thirty Seconds to Mars

Song: “Closer to the Edge”

This song started the decade and would highlight all the change that happened for me during those ten years. There were some really tough times for me, especially professionally. Yet, one of my best memories is dancing to this song in the kitchen with my second son.

Wow, this was a tough list. Going through the music brought back memories, both good and bad. Here’s to the next decade and all the good music to come.

Tomorrow I will write about the top five characteristics I think you need to live your best life.

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Moments

Moments.

Small ones.

Life changing ones.

In one way life is simply the collection of moments. Everyday has the possibility of pain or happiness, even in a routine day there is beauty and love.  As I thought about the 18,252 days I’ve lived, there have been some life changing moments that are easily recognizable. But also, there have been small everyday moments that have proven to be foundations for me. This post has been a challenge, but here are my top five moments from the last 50 years.

Number Five

Calling my wife back, who was then just a classmate, after I hung up on her the first time. I barely got up the nerve to call her the first time to ask her out. We were in the same college class, “Discipline in the Classroom.” We debated against each other, she was smart and presented herself well everyday. I was the kid in the back with a coffee and my hat backwards, always willing to give my opinion. 

People still wonder how we make it work after 23 years, but it would have never happened if I didn’t squelch my fear and call her back after hanging up the first time. 

Number Four

Chasing my dream of being a head football coach and accepting a position that I had some reservations about. Those reservations turned out to be true. I was fired after one year. 

So many changes happened because of that choice. Some of them were tough on me and the family. There were positive outcomes, too.  That’s the complexity of moments.

I learned some hard lessons. I’ve let go of my dream of being a head football coach. I trust my gut instincts more. I learned that a strong family sticks together when things get rough.

Number Three

Holding each of my children the day they were born, except my second son who experienced a medical issue. We didn’t get to hold him for a few days.

That moment when I held a son or daughter in my arms, the world disappeared. Their little hands clenched, eyes closed, chest moving up and down, the moment they start this journey of life. The weight of knowing that I was responsible for their foundation wasn’t heavy, though. That responsibility was the meaning of fatherhood, and I still enjoy fulfilling that role in their life.

Number Two

One of the most pivotal moments in my life happened when I was 16 years old. I decided to take control of my life and essentially walk away from my family history. The moment was a decision that has been messy, filled with pain, anger, and a mix of other consequences. But I don’t regret it.

Number One

The moment happened during football practice my eighth grade year. At the time it was intense for practice, but looking in from the outside, nothing life changing. Until each day passed and moments presented themselves that reinforced the lesson coach gave me that day.

I wish I could give you my backstory up to that day in practice, but this is a blog not a book. Let’s just say I had gone through a lot of craziness already in life by the time I was in eighth grade. I was the tailback for the team, already a filling out as an athlete. On this day, I wasn’t running with much power. I was going down pretty easily at the first level (at the line of scrimmage).

Coach had had enough. He held my face mask as he ripped into me about my effort. I don’t remember everything he said, but the message was that I was too strong, too good to run like I was. I was in tears. He called a basic dive play. I was mad. We ran the play. I couldn’t see anything because I was crying so hard. Coach blew the whistle and screamed for everyone to freeze. 

Then he said,“Jamey, turn around!”

I froze on his first command. I was staring at the tennis courts and the street that ran in front of our school, trying to catch my breath. I turned around when he told me to. There was a line of players on the ground where I had run through the line.

“That’s how strong you are,” he said. And we returned to practice.

At that moment I understood his message, but didn’t know how important it was for me until I found myself needing that reminder when life was tackling me too easily. I remember that day. I remember that lesson. Even now, at the age of 50 life tries to take me down. But I know I am strong because of an everyday moment. Thanks, Coach.

Tomorrow’s post will not be so heavy. Tomorrow I’m going to share my top five songs, which is difficult in it’s own way!

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The Big Five-0 and Blueberry Muffins

Yesterday was my 50th birthday.

This morning we made blueberry muffins. My second daughter asked how it felt to be half a century old. Children can view the world in a different way. Half a century. Fifty years.

As always, I thought about how many crazy turns I’ve taken on my path. I thought it would be fun to share some fun “Top Five” blog posts over the next five days in celebration of living fifty years. 

To start, this post will be my top five things that I am proud of.

Number Five

Self publishing my poetry and fiction books. I have a few more projects in the works. It is exciting to create work that others enjoy.

Number Four

Creating traditions for my family, like blueberry muffins on Sunday mornings. I’ve read books before bed for over 20 years. Other traditions have faltered, some are new, like deciding on a word for the year. But I think traditions are building blocks for a strong family.

Number Three

Keeping an open heart even as the world and people let me down. Call me foolish, but I believe Love can save us.

Number Two

Staying creative. Writing blog posts, taking photos, writing poetry. I try to listen to the muse when it hits. I’m working on a new short story right now. I have three new poems that are in rough draft form. Being creative keeps my spirit fueled.

Number One

Finding the courage to change the narrative of my family history. 

Tomorrow I’ll share another Top Five post about moments.

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Blueberry Muffins and a Number One Song

For a while now, we have been listening to the top 40 countdown on the 80s channel on XM radio while making blueberry muffins. We get to hear the top 10 songs, with breakfast usually ready while the number one song for the week plays. This week in 1986 was “Holding Back the Years” by Simply Red.

This morning, the kitchen was full. My second son had returned from a trip with his friends, and my oldest son’s girlfriend was visiting. Everyone was filling their plates: scrambled eggs, blueberry muffins, glasses of milk, and bacon. It was a typical Sunday morning.

Earlier in the countdown was the song, “Like a Rock” by Bob Seger (I don’t remember what position on the chart it was). There is a verse in the song about how 20 years have flown by: 

Twenty years now

Where’d they go?

Twenty years

I don’t know

I sit and I wonder sometimes

Where they’ve gone

Mixed with the sad vibe of “Holding Back the Years” I thought about how bittersweet our Sunday routine is.

In one way, our blueberry muffin breakfast holds back the years because it brings us together as a family. Every tradition a family participates in is a way to stop time. It strengthens the bond of love and joy that creates a timeless bubble for everyone to live in, no matter how much time has passed or how much someone has grown. 

Because time does pass, we do grow older, we do change. Sitting at the table, it was bittersweet to know that in a few months both of my sons would be out in the world. My youngest daughter doesn’t need my help taking the paper cup off of her muffin anymore. My children were growing, time was moving forward. 

There was nothing I could do about it, but yet this morning, we were together, family. That will never change. Contrary to the lyrics of “Holding Back the Years”, our tradition of blueberry muffins is a chance for something good to happen, for love to happen.

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Estimated Miles Per Gallon May not Represent Actual Life Lived

On Saturday I pulled into the garage after returning from Lincoln. The odometer read 171,201 miles. And that was just for this minivan, which we purchased in 2014 when we found out that we were having our sixth child. At the time it was the only minivan that had 8 seats. Our first minivan had over 80,000 miles on it.

My heart was full of memories driving home from watching my son’s basketball team play in the state title game. The team earned the runner-up trophy, but the hardest part of the day was knowing that my son’s career was over and that we wouldn’t be traveling for his basketball games. My wife and I talked about how many times we traveled I-80 to Lincoln, or Omaha, or Minneapolis, or Chicago, because of basketball. 

But those 171,201 miles represent more than basketball trips. They represent college visits two years ago, traveling on mini family vacations to the Omaha zoo. My wife and I have traveled to marching band competitions, honor band performances, and art award ceremonies.

Yes, part of parenthood is spending time on the road to support your children’s activities, and we have spent a lot of time on the road. But many of the miles also represent our Saturday trips to the library where we would play games before we checked out books. We rack up miles every weekend grocery shopping. There are miles on the odometer that are from simple date nights of DQ treats and parking at the lake to talk.

Over the last seven years, the minivan has taken us 171,201 miles. What that number doesn’t show is the memories of the places we have been. You can’t feel the panic of driving in all the different weather conditions, or the near miss of an accident in Chicago. The miles can’t show the funny view of every child asleep with their heads at odd angles in the back, or see us all jamming out to the song playing before a basketball game. Every season there was a new song. 

The miles don’t express the love between me and my wife. We have traveled most of the 171,201 miles together. We have laughed, cried, and been exhausted as we’ve traveled these roads, but we have driven them together.

171,201 miles is one way to measure a life lived. 

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Reflections Jan 27, 2021

The girls are settling down. The house is becoming quiet. My headphones are playing some of my favorite songs as I build a writing playlist on Spotify. Earlier I wrote a poem for my personal challenge to write a poem in 100 different forms. It was poem 81, a haibun titled, “A Father’s Gift.

But the writing muse is still burning. I am not sure where this post will end up, but it should be good (it will be musical).

I am tired. I am tired on so many levels, from the perpetual cycle of hate expressed in our culture, to the perceived apathy of living from people around me. I could link to any number of news articles to reveal how much pure negativity there is in this world, but I am tired of viewing those stories. If I took a random picture anytime during the day, it would show people staring at their phones. As if the height of living is text messages and photos saturated with filters.

In some ways, life is pretty simple. It is who we are and what we do with our time. A simple concept, yet filled with possibilities. Maybe it is because I am just months away from my 50th birthday, but time is a constant force in my thinking. I swear I can hear the grains of sand when all is quiet. I still have goals and aspirations I want to accomplish… the time to complete those is running out.

Again, maybe it is because I’ve been living for 50 years but I know that love works. I do believe that we have the choice on who we are. We are in control of how we treat people. What I don’t understand is how we keep thinking hate and pain make this world a better place. What saddens me the most is how deep this has gone. How many kids aren’t loved by their parents. How mean we can be to someone sitting next to us. How easy it is to tweet venom.

I have faith, though. Love is more powerful. Love is strength. I know I can’t change the world, but I can build my world, my home, my life with the foundation of Love. That is a start.

And then there is the pursuit of dreams… if I could figure this part out… Would I like to make a living from writing? Yes, I would. Will I? I don’t know. Money is not the main goal of my writing aspiration, respect or recognition is. To know that when someone says my name, they consider me a writer, a poet. I understand that most of that falls on my shoulders. How I present myself to the world. I know I am a good poet. My words do make an impact for readers. Yet, I feel like the world views me as someone who has a nice hobby. And I don’t know how to change that…

A final note as I wrap up this informal and somewhat musical blog. Even in these troubling times, this life is wonderful. There is pain, troubles for us to overcome. That is what makes the next day better than today. Tell your friends and family that you love them. Have a good cup of coffee and turn up that jam and dance.

Because when it is all said and done, today is the only day you have. It’s worth living for.

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2021 One Word

Well, somehow we survived 2020.  To be honest, though, I’m not sure how we will do in 2021. There is too much hate, apathy, and disregard of the sacredness of life for me to be fully hopeful that 2021 will be any better.  I know this post is starting out on a negative vibe, but it is honest. No, HONEST is not my word for this year, but being honest with myself did lead me to my word for 2021.

LIVE, as in live music, is my word for 2021.

There are a number of factors that influenced my choice.

First is my poetry.  As soon as possible, I will be attending open mic events.  I also have some social media ideas that I will be investigating to share my poetry.  As much as possible I want to present my works to the world.  Where will these steps take me?  I don’t know… and that is the exciting part.

Second, I want my everyday life to be more live.  Meaning that this year I don’t spend valuable time behind a screen.  I am live in my own life.  I am there for my family and friends.  I am there for my goals.  It is too easy to feel like I am doing something when I check my Instagram feed, or Twitter.  It feels like I have accomplished something when I complete a level on a match-three game.  But, honestly, I have done nothing. 

Maybe because I will turn 50 this year, but the third aspect of my word is to be thankful for this life by living it… yes, this connects to point two, but is deeper than just putting down the phone. There is a spiritual aspect to living.  No matter what you might believe, we only get today.  And our life is the collection of these days.  Making sure I am live each day is one way to pay respects to this chance I have.  To be thankful for the love of family and friends.  To make this world a better place, even if it is just in my home…it’s the best place I know to start.

So, here is to a new year, 2021. 

Here is to new poems and opportunities.

Here is to today being lived in front of a live audience.

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What is it Worth?

Let’s do a thought experiment.

Let’s say I have designed a unique tool you could use every day. For fun, let’s call it a Digital Attention Yielder, or D.A.Y. for short.

Now, what if I told you that it would only cost you a quarter to buy? How valuable do you think it is? How well made?

OK, what if I said it would cost a dollar? Is there much change in your judgment of the D.A.Y.’s value?

Let’s jump the cost to $100. What value does it have now in your mind? Five hundred dollars? A $1000?

The cost of something influences our judgment of its value. 

Hang with me for another thought experiment.

What if I said I would pay you a quarter to spend the day working on your dreams? Would you do it?

What if I told you that I would pay you $100 to be a better friend today? A better husband or mother? Would you do that? Would you read a story to your kids tonight? Text a friend?

How much money would it take for you to live the life you want? 

To be the person you want to be? 

How much is your D.A.Y. worth?

Money is an easy way to measure worth. The hurdle is that LIFE doesn’t pay us with money. Life gives us time. And only so much time. We decide how much our time is worth. Our life is measured by abstract ideas like love, friendship, joy, and hardwork, to name a few. It is difficult to put measurable value on these characteristics. But I believe we know deep in our hearts the answers. We know if we treat our family well. We know if we have worked on our dreams. 

At the end of the D.A.Y. we know if we spent it well.

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An Open Letter to Happiness

Dear Happiness,

I used to think of you as a rabbit.

You would appear just a few feet away, nose twitching, ears up. Always at least one eye on me. It was always cool to see you appear, but as soon as I would try to touch you, to feel your fur, you would dart off. Zig-zagging away. Your fluff of a tail waving goodbye.

RabbitEven when I would stumble onto a moment, unplanned, unexpected. You would be gone in a flash. I could never get close enough to catch you. To hold you in my arms. Feel your breathing, or smell your untamed spirit. You were too quick for me, even in my prime.

I know better now. I know that you, Happiness, are not a rabbit.

I know now that I was chasing other people’s expectations. The rabbits are social definitions of you. Rabbits that I can never catch. I’ll never have enough, or be enough, to catch them. It is still cool to see them in my yard. They still appear, nose twitching, eyes looking at me as if to say, “You can catch me this time! Really, you can.”

It’s hard not to give into the urge to chase them. To finally know how their fur feels, to feel that sense of pride after capturing one. But, I am so glad I finally saw you, Happiness.

I’ve heard the best place to hide is in plain sight. Happiness, you did that well. I remember when I discovered you were there, right by the front door. I laughed out loud because you were there every time I chased a rabbit. The day I figured it out, you were a pair of black Nike running shoes. I was headed out to take a walk to deal with the tension in my soul. And there you were, my shoes.

I see you, Happiness, all the time. You are my dress shoes I wear as a teacher, or when I go on a fancy date with my wife. You are the grass stained, worn out shoes in the garage I use to mow in. Once I figured it out, I knew you were there all the time. You were my football cleats. My track shoes. You were the shoes I bought when I started playing slow-pitch softball. You were there on my first day of kindergarten; nice clean shoes for the first day of school.

red shoesI only wish that I figured it out sooner. Even so, thank you Happiness, for being there every day. I understand that you are not a moment to be captured. You are the moments I live. Even in the rough spots, you are there. I found you in the ditch after my first car accident. I wore you as I boarded that Greyhound bus leaving my biological family behind. I was wearing a pair of Nike IDs when my second son was rushed out of the delivery room. I understand that you are there in everything I do, rain or shine.

I may never catch a rabbit, but I know I’ll have a great pair of shoes on when I run. Or even better, I’ll wear them as I sit on the front porch with my family watching the rabbits play.

 

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