Tag Archives: life

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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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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The Power of Small Relationships

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.

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Miles to Home

As many of you know, my word for this year is MILES, and I have fulfilled that word. Roughly, I have traveled 5,000 miles so far this year. I have traveled for sports, college visits, and a small family vacation. What is interesting about all my travels is how I’ve learned more about the idea of HOME.

Home is a house. A building that I start and finish my day at. A building that protects me and the family from storms. A place where we gather to eat dinner and to play Mario Kart. A place where we rest our heads and our feet. This house becomes a home because of the stories we share at the table, the protection we get from the emotional storms in our lives, and the laughter we share as dad comes in last again.

But home is not just this house. Home is our history. I went home this summer to visit my parents. It was just me, a few days to be their son and to walk down memory lane. One night we walked to the letter hill and found that my name, football number, and hand prints were still set in the concrete D on the hill by the high school. 

My name and number.

For a few days I was simply their son. We talked about life, family, and recalled funny and emotional stories. The house was basically the same and so was the sense of home, especially the routine of gathering in the kitchen to talk. It was always the place we would gather before we went off on adventures (maybe someday I’ll share how we had to heat up the oil pan in the car with a waffle iron one winter).

Home is a routine. My wife and I make blueberry muffins every Sunday. Growing up we had bacon and eggs almost every Sunday. Home is the traditions we create. When I traveled with my daughter to Atlanta, it was funny how we still followed some of our normal routines, like eating at a certain time.

But what I’ve really come to realize is that home is actually the people we love and have a strong relationship with. One of the best things about the trip home was how easy it felt to talk and be with people that I hadn’t seen in years. It was like being home with them. I sat with my high school guidance counselor on her back step and just talked. Yes, we caught up on life, but there was no awkwardness to bridge because of the years. That is home.

If for some reason we had to move from this house, we would still have our home. You would find us eating dinner (at 6 p.m.) sharing stories at the dinner table. We would be home no matter where we were in this world.

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