Tag Archives: life

The Choices We Have

I have been busy this month with the write a poem a day (PAD) challenge. I use the prompt provided by Writer’s Digest and I added my own personal challenge to write in a different form for each day. (You can read some of the poems on my creative blog: Creative Corner for Writing. I’m a few days behind posting to the site.)

On day 24 the prompt was to write a poem about a superhero or a villain, or both. I wrote a cadralore poem about moments in life where we could be the hero or the villain. The last stanza starts with the line:

Of course this got me thinking about how our decisions lead us to different choices in the future. At the same time a decision will eliminate other opportunities for us in the future. I once gave my seniors a kind of “last lecture” about life. I presented the idea that life is a tree. 

Image by Anastasia Makarevich from Pixabay

That each major decision sends us to a new branch. That branch will have its own junctions or moments of choice that only happen because of the decision made before. You can become paralyzed at the vastness of moments life can have for you because of one choice. My seniors are two weeks away from graduation. They have chosen a path to follow, the opportunities they will have in the future are unique to the path they have chosen now.

I recognize that some goals we have as individuals can be pursued at any time. I may yet be known as a poet or writer, but each day the choices I have now are because of choices I made in the past… I can’t change that.

No one can change that. Too many times we only consider the immediate consequences of a choice, not where the choice will lead us. No, we can’t predict what future moments will come our way, but there is a certain set of outcomes we can infer if we think about where the choice will lead us. 

As a poet, it is an inspiring image to the complexity of this life. Tomorrow is based on what choices we make today…

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Epic Challenge(s)

Alright, I have tried and tried and tried to remember a book I read about doing epic things. It is not on my Goodreads list, but I have only used Goodreads to catalog my reading for a few years so…

The book was about people taking on big challenges. Some of the examples were more personal, like blogging every day for a year. While other examples were life changing, like climbing a mountain when the person was 60 years old. The main theme was about taking on a goal that stretches one’s skills while making us face emotional aspects, like fear or patience. (If you recognize this book, please share the title with me on Twitter or in the comment section.)

Image by Prettysleepy from Pixabay

I just finished another book (which is on my Goodreads list), 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die. I have read 182 of the books on the list. I have an epic challenge and I only have 26 years to complete the challenge, according to the data from Statista about life expectancy. 

I found an epic challenge.

But I also have another epic challenge, based on another book, The Late Starters Orchestra. Which is the story of Ari L. Goldman’s journey of playing the cello with The Late Starters Orchestra. No, I am not going to learn to play the cello, I am going back to the piano. I have some musical background. I learned to play the drums in fifth grade. I taught myself how to play a few songs on the piano in junior high. I came back to the drums at a school I used to work for a couple of years ago. The band director and I both had the same planning period, so once a week he would let me practice on the drums. 

Sometimes when I write a poem, I can almost hear a song with it. I have had the privilege of working with P.R. while creating my poetic projects Stargazer and Just. He does an amazing job connecting music to my poetic lines. (Some new projects are in development.)

I doubt that I will ever be able to really write a song, but I want to try. I want to experience the beauty of creating music, to add another level of joy to my life, even though I will go through some rough spots learning to play the piano. That’s learning though.

So here is to my two new epic adventures in my life. Are you heading out on an adventure or in the middle of one? Share your story with me.

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This is the Worse Blog Post Ever

Can I ask you a question?

Why did you follow the link?  What did you expect to see or read?  Are you already tempted to X out of the tab and move on to something else?

I understand that I used a clickbait title to lure you to this blog post. And that is what I want to talk to you about in this post. The emptiness of clicking in our interactions with others and the shallowness it brings to our lives.

Can I ask a few more questions, just to get you thinking about the topic?

How many heart icons, thumbs up icons, or retweet icons have you tapped today? 

Did you interact with the person in the comment section or leave a reply?

Image by Coffee Bean from Pixabay

Now, I own up to the same behavior. I am just as guilty of retweeting a bunch of #vss365 (Very Short Stories 365) stories on most days. I tap the heart icon on Instagram pictures, too. I will read a blog post and hit the like icon (and usually the share buttons too).

But I’ve been trying to interact more with the people behind the icons. To build connections, however small, with others. To let them know that their words, their pictures, their small windows they share with the world are not simply viewed and forgotten.

Because I know the empty feeling one gets from social media. The feeling of screaming into the abyss we tag with the ironic label “Social Media”. But I’ve been thinking about the other side of the abyss, the emptiness I get by just scrolling, by hitting an icon that is supposed to mean I love something… yet, I don’t really love that image. I thought it was cool, yes, but it was forgotten in minutes. I agree with a blog post but the writer doesn’t see me nodding my head. 

Let’s add a layer to this idea; how much time is lost filling in icons that don’t really match our feelings at that moment? How much of our daily life is filled with empty motions that don’t fill our emotions?

I’m afraid of the answer. I’m afraid of the cost to our sense of purpose and even the simple joy of being connected to people when our only connection is a blue thumbs up icon. We are more complex as people than an outlined icon that is filled with a tap. Joy and belonging are built through connections, even digital ones. We can handle emotions like heartache and loneliness because we have people in our lives that can take some of the weight of those emotions from our heart, but only if we have true connections with people.

Social media is an incredible tool. I actually enjoy using it (been on Twitter since 2008) to share my talents… and to make connections. I think we should spend more time fostering those connections instead of simply scrolling past the content other people took the time to share with us. I bet the reason they shared it was in the hope it would make a connection with someone (at least that is why I share my writing).

I am sorry for using a clickbait title. If you are actually still reading this, I am grateful. Thank you. Leave a comment, let’s connect.

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I Build Bridges

For a minute, or two, consider how captivating bridges are in our lives, both physically and metaphorically. 

In physical form bridges represent our ingenuity of getting over obstacles. Whether it is a river or two mountain tops, we design bridges to help us on our journey. And then to return home. The wonder of them expands when you consider the style, the personality of the bridges we build. From the simple log laid down by a child to get over a stream, to the The Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge in China that covers over a hundred miles, each bridge is unique. Not only in the material used or the architectural design, but also the environment it was built in; the obstacle it was built to overcome.

As I’ve traveled over the years I’ve come to appreciate the bridges I’ve seen and used. I don’t think I am alone in this joy because the idea of a bridge is ingrained in our lives. We understand the importance of reaching the other side of an obstacle, even when it is in our relationships, our opportunities in life. 

We are always told not to “burn any bridges”.

The advice is good. All of our relationships are metaphorically connected by the bridges we build, by the obstacles we overcome in the relationships, and each connection has its own style influenced by the moments we share together. Burning a bridge is a devastating step in any relationship. (I will acknowledge and confess that there are bridges that do need to be burned down, but that is for another time.)

Then, there are the bridges we build that we never get to see in use. I know because I build bridges. I am a writer. 

Like all artists I create a bridge when I write a blog post, a book, or a poem. I construct a way for readers to find their way to my side of the moment. We connect through the words I use to build a bridge between our shared lives, our shared moments, or to allow the reader to explore a new view from my mountain top. 

All artists do this. How do I know, because I am a reader. I listen to music. I visit museums. I have walked on bridges created by all kinds of artists. I go back in time when I read Wordsworth’s poem “The World Is Too Much With Us,” and feel the same angst about society today. I could spend all day at any type of museum. As part of our honeymoon my wife and I went to the Art Institute in Chicago. (Yes, we went to a Cub’s game, too.) 

I always get choked up when I hear this line from the song “Humble and Kind”: 

Consider for a minute, or two, how powerful bridges are to the fullness of our lives. Whether we are driving on a family vacation, listening to a new song by our favorite artist, or even reading a blog post by someone new; each bridge is built with care and a unique style. I know because I build bridges, I am a writer.

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We are Glow in the Dark People

At church a couple of weekends ago the priest started his sermon by showing us his glow in the dark rosary. He asked if anyone knew how it worked, what was the chemical process to have the beads glow in the dark. He hinted at the answer, but quickly said he simply liked to think that the beads simply reflected back the light they absorb. 

The rest of the sermon was built on that idea correlated with a person’s spirituality. But even if you are not a religious person, I think we all are glow in the dark people. We reflect the light we absorb.

I mention this quote in my first post for this blog:

With the technology we have today though, there are more factors that influence what light we shine back. There are all the forms of social media, music, and just the influence of pop culture in general. Sadly, most of the light that comes from these sources are filtered and have a meanness tint to them. 

What I find most disheartening is the attitude that we are not responsible for the light we choose to absorb, then reflect back to the world. I do believe that we choose what we let into our lives, into our hearts. Whether it is hours of TikTok videos, a good book, or the latest slogan we simply repeat because everyone else is repeating it, we decide what kind of light, what kind of people we are in this world. We glow in the dark, and the day time, with the light we allow into our lives. We are glow in the dark people.

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Small Moments

When I go grocery shopping on Saturdays, I tell a dad joke to a certain cashier if he is working. He is not there every Saturday, but if I see him working, I make sure to tell him a joke. Some are better than others, but it is always a fun moment to share a joke with him. 

There is a gentleman at church I make sure I wave hello to when I see him and again when we share the sign of peace with those around us. I don’t know his name, I don’t think he knows mine. He is always alone.  We both smile as we acknowledge each other. Even if he is in another section, we wave to each other. There is a jolt of happiness in the moment.

Every morning (during the week) I make sure everyone’s water bottle is filled with ice and water. I place the bottles in backpacks, or leave them on the island for the person to grab before heading to school.

For whatever reason, the small moments have been on my mind lately. Actually the power of small moments… Everyday is filled with small moments, some lasting no more than a minute. Talking with the barista while ordering a coffee, holding a door for someone, singing a song in the car with my daughters (No, we do not talk about Bruno). What matters is what kind of energy we bring to the moment.

I am sure everyone has had the situation in a store or at a restaurant where the employee was in a bad mood and made the moment awkward or even negative. Or someone is on your tail driving, trying to get you to go over the speed limit. That kind of interaction can be tough to overcome, it sets a sour taste for the day, or at least for a while. Now, I know that customers can bring the same kind of negativity at a store. I have lost my cool in traffic. Anybody can bring negative energy to a moment.

Or we can be positive. 

If you think about how many small moments there are in a single day, you can understand why it is important to handle each moment as an opportunity to bring a little happiness to the people involved. It is like dropping change into a jar. A couple of pennies doesn’t seem like much, but if you are depositing change 20 times a day, it adds up quickly. 

A small moment can change everything for a person, be it negative or positive. This world needs more positive moments, even small ones.

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Silent Radio Day

I spent most of my day with a dead radio. Not because it was stolen like in the song, but I’ll get to why I couldn’t use the radio in a minute.  Driving in silence allowed me time to think about the crazy day I was involved in, and also some of the more abstract aspects of this life (just like the song). Warning, this blog post will be all over the place and take some time… just like life.

First, let’s begin with how the day ended. Besides me writing about it, the girls stayed up a little later than normal so they could play Super Soccer with their oldest brother because he was heading back to college tomorrow.

The living room was filled with laughter, and outbursts of “Kick it!, Kick it, NOW!” Both games went to a shootout, and big brother lost both games. His sisters were excited.

I sat with my youngest daughter in the kitchen as they played.  We had snack and played Would You Rather. I was asked if I would rather die by drowning or be killed by a giraffe. It was a rough game, but we added to the laughter.

I soaked up the moment and felt grateful for our home.  The day did not start so smoothly.

My wife had an early, 6:15 a.m., appointment for a few medical procedures. I took the day off because she would be put under anesthesia for the procedures. We were ready to head to the surgery center at 5:45. My son was going to handle dropping off everyone at school, then he would go to work. I would be able to pick up my four daughters from school at the end of the day.

I go to start the van to warm it up… van is dead. No lights on the dashboard when I turn the key… nothing. 

I grab the keys to my son’s car and take my wife to the surgery center. I drop her off to head back to the house. I have enough time to try to jump the van before the girls need to get to school. 

Did I mention it was only like 4 degrees outside this morning?

I get the jumper cables attached, start my son’s car and let it charge for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes… nothing. The van is still dead. I unhook the cables, it’s time to get the girls to school. I take them. There isn’t room for my son, so he stays home. I’ll be back to get him to work on time.

By this time, I am consciously making sure I keep my frustration under control. It’s not that I can’t feel frustrated, but I can’t let the frustration take over to cause the morning routine to be filled with negativity from me. The girls are already worried about mom, their schedule has changed, and they understand that dad is improvising because the van is dead.

I finally got back to the hospital. My wife was in the surgery room. The receptionist explains to me how the TV board will keep me updated. I watch as my wife’s patient number changes color (each color is a different step in the procedure). After a while, I was escorted back to the recovery room. Everything went well and we headed home.

I decided to try jumping the van one more time. It’s not as cold, I am not hurried, and there is more light. I make sure I get a good connection on both batteries (which isn’t easy to do with new cars, there are so many things connected to the terminals). Success, the van starts after 5 minutes.

Here is where I spend time with no radio. We have an XM radio. When the battery dies or is changed, you have to enter a code to use any part of the radio, even to play a CD. (Which we do have, the van is about 8 years old). We have the code written down, which I would find later. One of my daughters would get the honor of activating the radio! But that is later in the day after I pick them up from school.

As I run errands, I am alone with my thoughts. And my thoughts got deep when I learn about the death of someone.

We have been in the market for a new car, but it is hard to find a car that matches our needs and our price range. We had been working with a sales person Dewayne for a few months. He helped us when we replaced a car that hit a deer. I had last spoken to him in person in August about our car situation and what inventory the dealership was expecting. As you do with people, we talked about personal things. He let me know he would be taking some time off because he was having heart surgery to clear a blockage in an artery, but I should contact him in December. 

Well, I didn’t call in December. I called today. The receptionist was taken aback when I asked for Dewayne. She informed me that Dewayne had passed away the first day he was home from the surgery.

The first day home.

Dewayne was not a close friend, yet our lives intersected. And was supposed to continue to intersect. He was helping me find a vehicle. We had shared stories and talked about how the pandemic was causing havoc in all different aspects of life. Dewayne had a wife and kids. He had a big laugh. 

It’s a cliche, not to take life for granted. But honestly, maybe it should become our code to live our life by. What would we change if we treated today like the only day we have? No matter if it starts out with a dead battery, or your coffee order getting mixed up (yeah, that happened too). How would we treat people? How would we treat the people we love if today was the last day we would see them?

When you read this, it will be today. And today is the only day that matters, so decide how you will live it.

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Foundations of a Good Life

Being in education I see too many students carrying the weight of the world in their backpacks. Their faces straining as they drop their packs next to their desk. They sit at their desks, rolling out their shoulders. Sometimes they hold their head in their hands, trying to gain the strength to learn how to write a compare and contrast essay.

I know how they feel, I was that student. In some ways, this post is written for them. These are the top five foundational characteristics to a good life. 

Number 5

Curiosity. This world is filled with wonderful things. Staying curious about the world will open new opportunities. Curiosity is the willingness to be adventurous, even during a routine day. To not close your mind to the beautiful and cool things around adds depth to the ordinary aspects of life.

Number 4

Goals. I know some people might disagree with this idea, but goals do not have to be grand, they can be simple to-do lists you make for the day. They can be grand, though. Any level of goals creates action. Goals develop purpose for our lives. Even during the roughest moments, we can take steps toward the goals we have set. 

Number 3

Others. I’ve said this before. “Life is a team sport.” This is the most complex characteristic. Creating the right team is critical to achieving a good life, but it is hard to create that team at different times in life. I will acknowledge that (see number one characteristic). You don’t need a big team, you need a strong team that supports each other.

Number 2

Love. This might come as a shock for some of the faithful readers of this blog because I have written about Love in a number of different ways. Love is a foundation for a great life, no doubt. Keeping an open heart, being vulnerable to receive love, opens up a powerful way to live. I do believe that Love is the only way we create an incredible society and world. But…

Number 1

Strength. Every characteristic listed needs, in some ways, strength to accomplish. Strength to make hard decisions. Strength to keep your heart and mind open. Strength to choose to love others, even when they hurt you. Strength to endure when your backpack feels like it is carrying the weight of the world. You build strength by working on keeping your curiosity of the world, striving toward goals, finding the right team, and choosing love… you’ll find you are stronger than you know.

Tomorrow I will share the top five things that bring me joy in this 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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