Friday, December 31, 2010

#85 - Out With the Old, In With the New

As I write this, there are roughly three hours left in 2010. It has been an eventful year in a lot of ways. It was a good year for reuniting with old friends, making new friends, and getting together with family.

For me, the year was a continuation of the journey I began in 2008 to come to grips with my own past and finally begin to let go of the things that have kept me from living life to its fullest. I still have some distance to travel, but I can say I am happier than I have ever been. I am becoming more content with who I am, even as I work to become the person I can be.

In the past, I had a habit of making ten New Year's resolution every year. And every year, I was lucky if I kept a single resolution. This year, I'm keeping it simple and only making a single resolution. That resolution is to continue my journey of inner acceptance and growth. If I can do that, I can then make a greater effort to be a better friend, a better husband, a better father, and a better person.

I hope your journeys in 2011 take you to some wonderful places. With any luck, perhaps our paths will cross and we can visit some of those places together. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

#84 - A Brief Christmas Wish

Before we each get caught up in the million last-minute things that seem to need doing in the final hours before Christmas, I want to take a moment to wish each and everyone of you a very joyful Christmas.

My wish and my hope is that you find yourself in a happy, peaceful place this Christmas, even if it is only for the day. The last two years of my life have been a bit of a roller coaster ride as I have begun to wrestle with and perhaps finally get the upper hand on the demons which have plagued me since childhood. I have come from the edge of the abyss to a place where, if I am not exactly standing in the light, I can at least see it.

I also hope at Christmas that each of you can find or grab a moment to step back from the rush of activity we all get caught up in and simply breathe. Find the calm that will allow you to truly experience and enjoy the spirit of the season, one of joy and of peace. The challenge for each of us is to carry that spirit into the coming year. If we can do that, then 2011 will be a wonderful year, no matter what challenges it brings.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

#83 - Christmas Giffts, Big and Small

The clock is ticking. Christmas is almost here. Do you have all of your shopping done yet? Aside from perhaps a few stocking stuffers, I do. For the most part, I can now relax and watch the world go mad around me. Of course, it helps when you only have to buy for two people.

I don't know what surprises and mysteries await me under the tree this year. I think I've been pretty good, but you'd have to ask Santa (and Teresa) for a more unbiased assessment. However, even if there is nothing under the tree with my name on it, I have already received some wonderful gifts this Christmas season.

The most recent of these gifts was received yesterday. I had a friend at work tell me about her first time back on the ski slopes since suffering a knee injury last year. The joy and expression of pure glee on her face was almost child-like and is something I hope all of us can experience at least once in our adult lives.

A second gift received this week was the glimpse of a white-tailed deer crossing the road while I was driving into work. It helped remind me that there is great beauty in nature, even when it is cold outside.

The third gift came from my son, Christopher, who is trying this year to take a Christmas tradition in a slightly more healthy direction. He wanted to show his concern for Santa's health by making sure we have low-fat milk on hand to put out with Santa's cookies on Christmas Eve.

The fourth gift is one I have enjoyed off-and-on throughout 2010. It's the used fifth-wheel trailer we bought last year (took delivery on my birthday, so it has been two presents in one). It has allowed me and my family to get out to places near and far year-round and relax while also enjoying the sights and scenes around us. We didn't quite make a trip every month this year, but we came pretty close and will have something to shoot for in 2011.

The fifth gift I have received this year is my growing list of friends on Facebook. It has been great to connect with people from my past and stay in touch with people who have been a part of my life. It has also helped me to reconnect with my family, which has been a wonderful thing.

The final gift I have enjoyed this year and for 17 previous Christmases is the love and support of my extremely patient wife, Teresa. She has stood by me and walked with me as I have slowly tried to rid myself of baggage from my past and tried to learn to embrace the possibilities of the present and future. I'm not there yet, but it isn't for lack of support and encouragement.

It isn't quite enough gifts to fill the 12 days of Christmas, but it's a pretty nice haul just the same. I hope each of you have a wonderful Christmas, filled with joy and laughter and, most of all, with love. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

#82 Looking In My Rear View Mirror

"You load sixteen tons, what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt."
Sixteen Tons - Tennessee Ernie Ford
"Glory days, well, they'll pass you by. Glory days, in the wink of a young girl's eye. Glory days, glory days."
Glory Days - Bruce Springsteen

I am, thankfully, not deeper in debt, and I'm not sure I ever really had any glory days, but I suppose these songs reflect a portion of the mindset I've sometimes had whenever another birthday comes around.

I am now another year older, and perhaps most of whatever promise I had when I was younger has now slipped past and is irretrievably lost. I am at a stage of my where I have more past than future.

As Paul Anka wrote and Frank Sinatra sang, "Regrets - I've had a few." There were many things I wanted to do in my life and likely never will. For instance, write a best-selling novel. The ideas are there; I think some writing ability is there. What is missing is the drive and the discipline. 

I suppose the same holds true with regard to writing a hit song. I've written lyrics most of my life, some of them pretty good, I think, but I never had the courage or the drive to put myself or to put them out there.

At the same time, there are things I've done that I never thought I would. I never thought I would be responsible for producing a local television station's coverage of a papal visit. After I left college the first time, I never though I'd finish my degree, let alone go on to graduate school. And, once I reached my late 20s, I never thought I would marry, let alone become a father.

Then there are things I still hope to do. Some of these revolve around travel. I've always had a desire to see Scotland and Ireland. Although not as strong as it once was, that desire still lives. That desire has been supplanted to a large degree by a desire to one day live full-time in a motor home or fifth-wheel trailer and travel around the country.

Two other things I still hope to do in my life: be a better husband and a better father. I did not have very good role models in either area, so both have been continuous on the job training. But I'll keep trying and keep dreaming.

As long as I have a dream to work toward, simple or elaborate, I won't mind continuing to get older. When I, when we no longer have dreams, that's when getting older no longer beats the alternative. So keep dreaming. I intend to.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

#81 - Giving Thanks

I originally envisioned drafting this from our fifth-wheel  overlooking Brownlee Reservoir in the Hells Canyon area near the Idaho-Oregon border. Alas, winter picked Thanksgiving week to make an early appearance, shelving those plans.

Still, I have plenty to be thankful for this year. First and foremost, of course, are my wife, Teresa, and our son, Christopher. They give me roots when before I really had none.

Second are my friends, including all of the people I've reconnected with or stayed connected with through Facebook. Over the years, I have crossed paths with a great many people, and it still blows my mind to think that some of them want to stay in touch, even if only now and then.

I'm thankful to have a job and not to have a great deal of debt. From the news stories, that makes me more fortunate than many.

Tomorrow, we'll join millions of other Americans in sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner, in our case turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, homemade bread, and pie. Then, we'll probably join millions of other Americans in settling down to the traditional after Thanksgiving dinner nap.

I hope you find plenty to be thankful for this year, and I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

#80 - Seasonal Musings

It's been a while since I posted and thought I should, if only for my own satisfaction. I often don't know if anyone reads these posts, and at some level, I suppose it doesn't matter. I write as much for me as for anyone else.

With the elections come and gone, I am forced to finally admit that it is autumn. I've been trying to deny it as long as I can, but the signs are now everywhere.

The first sign came a few weekends ago when we winterized the fifth wheel, draining the hot water heater, blowing air through the water lines, a putting some RV antifreeze into the tanks. Not that big a job but a sure indicator that warmer weather has moved on.

The biggest indicator, of course, would be all of the leaves on the ground. Everywhere I look I see the signs of one life cycle giving way to the next. Spring and autumn are, I suppose, the most visual indicators of the circle of life. Spring rings in the new while autumn rings out the old.

As I get older, I think my feelings about the seasons are changing, Spring and summer are now my favorites, and not solely because of the warmer weather. Although that is a plus.

Spring brings new life, and for me represents a season for new hope, new opportunity, and new possibility. Summer seems like the prime of the year, the time when those new possibilities have their greatest chance for realization.

I do still enjoy autumn for the colors and the crispness of the air that comes without it being too cold. On the other hand, autumn feels like turning a corner and a sense that if those new possibilities of spring have not yet been realized, they won't be, at least not this year.

I think winter used to be my favorite season of the year. As child living in Mojave Desert, winter was the one time of year when you could count on temperatures being comfortable. Later, as a teen growing up in the Seattle area, winter seemed to bring with it the solitude I often craved.

Now, as I near another birthday, winter seems more a time of endings. As one ages, endings take on a more serious meaning, a greater sense of finality. Perhaps that is why I don't enjoy winter as much as I once did. Or perhaps it is simply that I am less able to deal with the cold. Either way, winter seems to me more stark than the other seasons, which is beautiful in its own way, but a month of it is enough for me.

Beyond that, however, I suspect one reason I don't enjoy winter as much as I used to has to do with the increased commercialization of the holidays and the massive sales pushes that begin to take place as soon as Labor Day has come and gone.

This is the time of year for doom and gloom stories about the retail sector, as so many businesses have come to rely on the holiday shopping season for the bulk of their yearly earnings. The phrase dealing with putting one's eggs all in one basket comes to mind.

The commercial aspect of the holidays has long overshadowed other aspects. For me, though, the holidays are more about getting together with friends and family. Perhaps if I can hold on to that aspect of things winter won't seem quite so gloomy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

#79 - Thoughts on Solitude and Loneliness

Over the last three days, I've had the chance to spend some time alone. Teresa and Christopher flew to Alabama to visit Teresa's family, and I took the dog, hitched up the fifth wheel, and headed to Anderson Ranch Reservoir, about a two-hour drive from Boise.

I parked the trailer roughly 50-feet from the water's edge. Thursday, I had the beach to myself. The sun was out, and I was able to enjoy the quiet. I pulled out a chair and sat by the water, reading. Oliver and I also got in a nice long walk along the shoreline. All in all, a very nice day spent relaxing and contemplating.

Friday, I gained some neighbors, who parked their rigs about 50-yards away. Without knowing it, I had apparently parked in the spot where the best fishing from the shore was to be had.

With their arrival also came a change in the weather. It got cloudier, breezier, and cooler. And the solitude became a little lonely. I started thinking about Teresa and Christopher and wishing they were with me. I actually began to think about cutting my stay short. Instead, I fired up the generator and watched a movie.

Saturday was even cooler and windier and more overcast than Friday, and I was seriously considering whether to pack up and head home. It felt a little like being stuck inside on a rainy day except there was no one to do anything with. Just as I was about to decide to head home, the skies cleared and with them, my mood. I decided to stay another night.

Sunday morning, I was still trying to decide whether to pull out or stay another night (since I also have Monday off). I started to do dishes and then realized I was actually packing stuff away. My decision was made.

It was a beautiful day for the drive - sunny but not too warm. Part of me considered staying, as I would have had my section of the beach all to myself again, but more practical concerns (waste water storage among them) convinced me I made the right decision.

Two years ago I would not have risked making this trip alone. I'm glad I did. Having Oliver along certainly helped, but I learned I am able to enjoy time alone.

I also learned how important weather can be to one's mood, especially when you are out on your own. When the sun was shining, I was able to enjoy the solitude, but when it was cloudy and windy or even raining and I had to stay inside, I felt isolated, which is, I suppose, the negative side of solitude.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I learned how much having Teresa and Christopher along means to me. Even when I crave some solitude or alone time, knowing they are there and available gives me an incredible security blanket and the knowledge that I am not alone, at least not in the sense of being lonely.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

#78 - If a Blog Falls in the Forest . . .

I have found myself wondering lately with more frequency whether anyone "out there" reads the ramblings I post here from time to time. I would like to think so, but the image that comes to mind is of thoughts drifting aimlessly across the blogosphere, much like a seed drifting on the wind, only to end up on barren ground.

On the one hand, it is not important that anyone else read what I post here. After all, I write mainly for me, often as a form of self-therapy, always as a means of giving expression to that part of me that needs to attempt to be creative.

On the other hand, it would be nice to think that dozens of people read these posts and find themselves amused, engaged, challenged, or even angered by what they read. The realist in me (or pessimist, if you prefer) does not really allow for that possibility, but the more optimistic part of me, small though it is, thinks it could happen.

However, I probably would never know. The number of comments posted in the nearly three years I've been blogging still number in single digits. That tells me either that no one is reading or that no one is interested enough in what they read here to say anything about it.

Either way, I imagine I'll continue to blog as long as it continues to fulfill my need for self-expression in ways that my occasional attempts at writing song lyrics do not. The situation does, however, beg the question similar to that of the tree in the forest: if a blog is posted and no one reads it, is it truly a blog and was it ever really written?

Friday, September 10, 2010

#77 - Missing Old Friends

I find myself feeling a bit melancholy tonight. Teresa is sleeping, and Christopher is watching television, and I am alone with my thoughts. Checking out Facebook tonight, I am drawn to thoughts of old friends.

In a sense, I suppose I use the term friend a bit loosely. When I knew most of the people who crowd my thoughts, I didn't really know how to be a friend. I didn't know how to invite them into my life or how to be a part of theirs.

So I guess what I am really drawn to is thoughts of lost opportunities. I find myself thinking of people I once worked with, people I wish I had known better at the time. I also find myself thinking of people who slipped out of my life.

Of course, things change, and change is not always bad. If things had not changed, if I had not kept moving from place - running from something or in search of something - I would never have met Teresa, and we wouldn't have Christopher. But even good change can be tinged with a bit of pain.

Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with a good many people I knew in my younger days. At the same time, it has shown me a glimpse of what might have been if I had been more approachable or better able to connect with those around me.

Connection is a big word with my therapist, both making connections and dealing with those connections that have been broken. Making connections is something I have struggled with my entire life. I'm sure she would suggest that connections broken early on have something to do with that.

I never got close or let others get close to me. In a way, it is a variation on the old Groucho Marx line, "I would never belong to any club that would have me as a member." In a way, I applied that to friendships.

In some sense, Facebook has allowed me to turn back time, but most of the friendships are filtered through distance in addition to time. In a way, I suppose that makes sense. When I was younger, my relationships were all filtered through emotional distance. Now the distance is physical. I'm not sure one feels any better than the other.

I hope in the coming days any of you reading this will let your friends know that you are thinking of them. I just did.

Monday, August 30, 2010

#76 - The Trouble With Labels

My wife, Teresa, is a fan of the late Jesuit priest and psychotherapist Anthony de Mello. Before his death in 1987, de Mello wrote a number of books and led a number of retreats around the world, one of which was videotaped in its entirety and available for viewing on the Internet.

One thing de Mello said which has resonated with me since I first heard it is the notion that labels are a dangerous thing. As de Mello argued, once you put a label on something all meaningful discussion about that thing ceases. Looking at the current state of affairs today around the world, I would argue he is right.

Labels do not allow us to find commonality with one another; they tend to put us at odds with one another. We have liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, capitalists and socialists, and so forth.

Labels these days tend to produce extremes. Once you are labeled as a liberal, everything you say is suspect in the minds of conservatives. And vice versa. Tell someone you are Muslim and you are immediately a potential terrorist. If you are a Republican, you are suddenly an obstructionist in the eyes of many.

None of these positions are conducive to meaningful dialogue about the problems and the opportunities facing our nation and our world. If we come from a position of antagonism, how can we ever hope to find those areas where we might actually agree?

We are more than the sum of the labels placed upon us. For instance, a conservative friend and I have discussed, even argued at times about the need for health care reform in America. We agreed that certain things could be improved, even if we did not agree on the best approach for doing so. We could not have found any common ground on such a contentious subject had we not been able to get beyond our labels.

The problem is that the labels are reinforced every day by those who would foster divisiveness and dissension and who profit from it. They have no desire to see meaningful discussion on any topic and resort to name-calling and innuendo in order to prevent serious discussion and debate.

The current political climate in America and the lack of meaningful action on many issues in Washington reflects the damage that is done when we allow ourselves to be labeled and we resort to labeling others. The only label that matters is human being. We all of us have that in common, and it is that common ground from which we should begin to approach, address, and debate the issues affecting us and our world.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

#75 - Release the Hounds

About a month ago now, our son Christopher managed to somehow dislocate his knee while getting into bed. Since then, he has been on a regimen of strengthening exercises every other day and instructions to ride his bike every day.

Because of his autism and his tendency to avoid doing things if he doesn't have to, Teresa or I would accompany him on these 10-15 minute rides. Lately, we've both started going with him, and we bring along the fourth member of our family, our beagle Oliver.

The buildup is fun to watch. As soon as Oliver sees us changing or putting on tennis shoes, he knows something is up; the game is afoot, so to speak. Oliver does not act this way in the morning as we are getting ready for work. Somehow, he knows this is different.

Even before we head to the door, Oliver begins to get a little excited. He starts walking faster, almost like an expectant father pacing. The tail starts wagging a little faster. And as soon as we get near the leash, look out.

I take Oliver with me, and Teresa rides along with Christopher. My bike is a Bike E, in its day a sort of entry-level recumbent bike. I describe it to people as sort of an aluminum beam with handlebars, tires, and a seat with a back.

Because of its design, it sits a little lower to the ground than a traditional bike. This gives me a little extra reaction time and makes it a bit easier to get my feet down and prevent falling should Oliver suddenly decide to take off in a direction other than the one I'm trying to ride.

The way it works is that I wrap the handle end of the six-foot leash around my left hand several times - I find I have better control with a shorter amount of exposed leash - and hold my arm out to the side to keep Oliver away from the bike wheels while I steer the bike with my right hand. Not the best approach, perhaps, but it seems to work, and I have yet to think of a better approach.

Once I start the bike moving in the direction we plan to go, Oliver takes off. For a few blocks, my bike is Oliver-powered, I don't have to pedal at all. If I close my eyes (not a good idea on a moving bicycle), I can almost picture myself guiding a sled in Alaska's Iditarod race.

For some reason, Oliver's running - with his body slightly angled as if going around a curve - reminds me of the greyhounds I would occasionally watch race when I lived and worked in Rapid City, SD. But I also see a sheer enthusiasm as he goes all out, running down the street.

Eventually, I have to slow my pedaling down a little as Oliver starts to tire a little. But he gets a chance to get outside, something he loves, and he gets some badly needed exercise. Each time we go, it takes him less time to recover afterward. Plus, there is something really remarkable about the sheer joy and power I see when I glance to my left and watch him running. I see him come truly alive, and sometimes I start to feel that way a little bit, too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

#74 - Getting Off the Political Merry-Go-Round

When I was younger, I used to be very much into politics. As the Editorial Editor for my high school newspaper, I came out in support of the then very real possibility of gas rationing. This was easy for me as I did not have a car. I also wrote about censorship and book burning involving a school board in Kansas.

I would often play devil's advocate; it rarely mattered the subject. I enjoyed the exchange, the banter, the give and take. It made me feel alive.

I say all of this as prelude to discussion of some of my recent experiences on Facebook. I have one Facebook friend, a former colleague in another life and another career who often posts political items, items that to me seem incendiary and designed to arouse anger, passion, and debate. All too often, I take the bait and find myself arguing as one self-proclaimed progressive against a wall of conservative thought.

Every time I allow myself to get sucked into one of these debates, I tell myself it will be the last time. I find myself exasperated that they won't even listen to or consider an opposing view, and I am sure they feel the same way about me.

So why do I continue? I suppose it must be the remaining idealist in me, though these opposing and often intolerant voices are slowly beating that idealism out of me. They aren't changing my views merely helping me to realize that politics is ultimately all a game.

I am rapidly concluding that governments - Republican, Democrat, or even Communist or Socialist - don't really care about me. Governments are about two things, when it comes to it - power and control, and they cater to those who can help them get it and keep it. If it were different, the rich would not be getting richer while the poor get nowhere, and corporations would not be seen as having the same freedom of speech (backed by 1000s of times the money) as  individuals.

This realization is likely why many argue for term limits in government. Sadly, I think all that will do is increase the number of people who grab for more power in a shorter period of time by creating a bit of a revolving door effect.

None of this is helped by the fact that the two major political parties seem unable and certainly are unwilling to work together to accomplish anything of major benefit or importance. I believe this will only get worse after the November elections. Since the minority party typically gains seats in midterm elections, I think we can all look forward to two years of infighting, back-biting, and legislative stalemate.

So, I am going to try to give up what has long been an intellectual passion of mine: politics. For me, it may well prove to be as difficult as giving up smoking is for others. But I managed to do that once upon a time, so this may not be as hard as I think.

I have reached the conclusion that life is too short, and there are other things I'd much rather be doing that arguing with people I often don't know and usually don't agree with. Listening to music, for instance. Solving a challenging crossword puzzle. Reading a good novel.

Top of that list would be taking the trailer out for a weekend somewhere, anywhere. Besides, I feel much more alive sitting outside my trailer in a campground overlooking a river or a lake than I ever feel arguing political points on Facebook. I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

#73 - Sensory Overload

I'm sitting here after an evening at Chuck E. Cheese, and the noises are beginning to recede from my head. On Facebook, I half-jokingly posited the question as to what a visit to Chuck E. Cheese would be like for someone who was ADHD. I can't imagine it would be good.

Everywhere you turn you are bombarded with lights and sounds. Upon our arrival tonight, the noise level was almost akin to being in the front row at a rock concert. Mercifully, someone turned down the sound about 15 minutes or so after we arrived.

But those 15 minutes were an experience for us with Christopher. Because of his autism, he is already somewhat susceptible to sensory overload. (Bright fluorescent lights in particular - like those we find at Costco - seem to have a powerful effect.) Couple that with having gone several hours without eating, and it isn't a pretty site. (At that point, Christopher gets what a bit squirrely, as Teresa has termed it, and he does remind one of a squirrel, scurrying here and there.) Christopher was holding tight, first to Teresa, then to me, hanging on for dear life, and it was touch and go whether we would stay.

However, once Christopher had a little pizza in him, things improved and we were able to somewhat enjoy the rest of our stay. The pizza was okay, but a bit lacking in the sauce department. At one point, I held up a piece with visible sauce and joked to Teresa that I had gotten the slice with all the sauce.

Chuck E. Cheese also seems to spare all expense when it comes to beer selection. The two, count 'em two, taps said "Beer" and "Beer". Turns out that Beer 1 is Bud Light and Beer 2 is Budweiser. I guess they don't want to overwhelm customers any more than they already are.

Obviously, children are Chuck E. Cheese's primary demographic, and they reel them in with all sorts of games - from simple games for the youngest to military strategy games for teens and beyond. Games, are also where I suspect the Chuckster makes most of his money.

You spend $5.00 or $10.00 or more for tokens in hopes of winning tickets that you then redeem for prizes that are worth less than the money you spent on tokens. No matter how good you are at the games, judging from the prize selection I saw, Chuck is in no danger of losing money on a single customer.

Still, I suppose it is a pleasant enough diversion for families, although I don't plan a return visit any time soon unless invited by someone else (which is how we came to be there in the first place). For some families, I suspect a trip to Chuck E. Cheese may be the only family interaction they have and then, perhaps, only long enough for their pleading son or daughter to beg then to buy more game tokens. As for me, I'll take a weekend with the family in our fifth wheel over a visit to Chuck E. Cheese every time.

Friday, July 16, 2010

#72 - Reunifying Heart, Mind, and Spirit

"Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above. Don't fence me in." - Cole Porter

Recently, I was catching up with a friend and former co-worker via e-mail. As friends who haven't spoken for a while often do, we talked about what we had been up to of late.

One of the things I have been up to is getting out with the family in our fifth-wheel trailer every weekend we can. So far this year, we have managed nearly 30 nights with at least 12 or 13 more planned.

In mentioning that, I reflected on the feeling that I am more outgoing and more social when we are in a campground with our trailer, than we are in our own neighborhood. I put forth the notion that at least part of that may be due to the fact that there are usually few if any fences inside a campground.

In a campground you and your neighbors are truly neighbors in a much more communal way than in any kind of residential development or neighborhood. On our last outing, we met a nice couple from nearby Nampa and ended up sitting and talking for an hour or two. I don't really see that happening in most neighborhoods.

There is, of course, a shared common bond of being outdoors, but people are outdoors in their back yards all the time, and I doubt if they talk to anyone but their spouse or children or pet. I think the fences have a lot to do with that.

Fences serve a number of functions. They help to keep your pets from invading the yard of another. They also help to delineate property lines. In other words, they keep others out. They also keep you in, to some extent.

Fences compartmentalize us and separate us and perhaps isolate us as well. They make it easier for shy people to keep to themselves. And of course, they protect our privacy.

In our homes behind our fenced yards, we are a very private people. I don't get to know you; you don't get to know me. We shut each other out and remain complete strangers. We become compartmentalized, in a way.

In a campground, the lack of fences removes one barrier to conversation and interaction. We are taken out of our fenced compartments and put into the mix with others who have been taken out of their compartments. The setting and the circumstances are more conducive to interaction, and as a result, we often find ourselves interacting with others, others we might never talk to if they were on the other side of the fence from us.

America, especially the West, espouses the notion of "rugged individualism." Privacy is an important piece of that concept. Yet we are also at some level a communal people. The Declaration of Independence, after all, begins with the phrase "We the people," not "I, one person."

Fences serve to remove a part of us from our inner being. When I am in a campground with my family and with no fences, I rediscover and reconnect with that missing piece. I find myself more at ease, more at peace, and more at one with my surroundings. I feel more whole.

I'm not necessarily suggesting we all tear down the fences around our yards. But it might be a good idea if we stepped out from behind those fences (physical, mental, and emotional) once in a while and looked at the world and the people beyond our fences. You might feel a little lighter if you do. I know I do.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

#71 - Working Toward Simplicity in a Complex World, Pt. 2

In my last entry, I wrote of our desire to one day sell the house and move from 2,000 square feet to roughly 300-350 square feet. Accomplishing that will mean ridding ourselves of stuff: things we have accumulated over the years out of desire, perceived necessity, or perhaps because of some empty place inside that we want to fill.

So that means downsizing, which means ridding ourselves of most of our books (I'm keeping my America's Test Kitchen Best Recipes cookbook, though), figurines, furniture, large tools, even some of our clothing. Yet, if the last several months are any indication, I don't think we will feel deprived.

When we take the trailer out, we simply do not have room for everything we seem to need in order to live our lives at home. And I don't think we miss it. In the trailer, we have places to sleep, places to sit and read or watch movies, a kitchen, and a bathroom with a shower. Simple yet adequate.

We also have the capability to sit or cook outside. And when we do sit outside, we have the prospect of a different front (or back, depending on your perspective) yard every time we go on an outing. While not as landscaped, these yards usually surpass anything we would see at our own home, and we don't have to do yard work!

In addition, we usually eat better, sleep better, and get more physical activity when we take the RV out than we do when we stay home. Not only that, but I'm convinced we use fewer resources during a weekend in our fifth wheel than we do during a weekend at home.

Showers in particular use much less water, simply due to the fact that the hot water heater only has a six gallon capacity, requiring conservation and a little planning. We also use less water when we do dishes. And because our trailer is 30 amp, we use less electricity simply because we can't plug in and run everything at the same time.

The fact that Teresa and I both have a bit of a nomadic spirit helped us to gravitate toward the idea of the full-time RV life and made the idea of living in a fifth wheel or a motor home seem also a no-brainer for us. The fact that we have become a little less materialistic as we get older also helps.

Money (and caring for Christopher) may dictate when we can make this transition from a sticks-and-bricks (as full-time RVers refer to houses) life to RV living. I'm confident that no matter how much money we have or don't have, we will find a way to make the move. I've read too many stories about people from all income levels who have made such a move to doubt that we can do it, too. When the time comes, I know we'll be ready. now to start packing those boxes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

#70 - Working Toward Simplicity in a Complex World, Pt. 1

Teresa, Christopher, and I recently came back from one of the many weekends we hope to spend this year in our new to us fifth wheel trailer. Odd as it might sound to many in our super-sized, bigger is better world, Teresa and I seriously talk about and contemplate one day leaving our 2,000 square foot home (increasingly small by American standards) and moving into a 300-350 square foot fifth wheel or motor home.

One of the difficulties we will have to overcome is the problem of what to do with all that stuff. Like most Americans, I suspect, we have accumulated assorted treasures, necessities, creature comforts, tools, etc., most of which we will have to leave behind as they will not fit in the average or even the super-sized trailer or motor home.

That raises the question of where to start. When we look at the big picture and see all of the stuff we have (and we have less than many), it seems as if we could never get rid of enough to enable us to fulfill our dream of living in an RV, at least not without a bulldozer to come in and ruthlessly shovel most of the items away.

We are, I suppose, lucky in that we do not have a great deal of heirlooms or family keepsakes to have to store or find a place for in the RV. From my side of the equation, we have a set of flatware that was a wedding gift from my mother. That, we could use in the RV if we decided to keep it. I also have a few drawings and painting my mother did that I might like to keep. Those, we could rotate and use for decoration in the RV. Maybe.

Teresa has some family pictures, which we have talked about digitizing. She has also been worked to convert a number of songs from the many albums we still own to mp3 so that we can keep the music without the need to keep the albums.

That still leaves a great deal to weed out and rid ourselves of. When I was younger - especially after I went back to school - I became an avid book buyer, to the point where we had shelves full of books in several rooms of the house. I obtained them (some bought, some free) either with an eye toward graduate school or with the thought I would like to read them some day. In most cases, I never have.

Since we moved to Idaho seven years ago, I have managed to rid myself of four or five boxes of books, donating them to the local library. However, I have several hundred still to go through, knowing I cannot possibly keep them and pursue a full-time life in an RV. As any full-time RVer will tell you, books add a lot of weight to your RV and quickly eat up precious cargo carrying capacity. So, nearly all of the books must go, although I plan to keep a few. Deciding which few I will keep is what keeps me from getting rid of most of the collection at this point.

Then there is the garage, crammed full of stuff I'm not even sure we know we have. In that sense, we are much like any average American family. Here in Idaho, most new houses are built with three-car garages, two-thirds of which usually seems to be filled with anything but a car. That, I suppose, makes us a bit different from many. First, we get by with a two-car garage. Second, we can actually park one car in the garage.

Like most Americans, though, we have bought into the consumerism culture, hook, line, and sinker. We buy, I'm sure, things we don't need or things we think we need only to come across it on a shelf or in a drawer a few years later and wonder why we bought it and lamenting the fact that we spent money on it.

Unlike a house, though, even the biggest RV has a very limited amount of space for stuff. Yet we find we have plenty of stuff in the RV and we don't feel ourselves deprived. If anything, we feel like we have more of everything, something I'll explore more in another entry.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

#69 - Questions From Out of Left Field

From time to time, odd things occur to me and obscure questions pop into my head. Hence the name of this blog. This is one of those times.

For instance, must a woman who rides a motorcycle have children in order to be a "motorcycle mama"?

If a motorcyclist is also known as a biker, what is a bicyclist also known as?

Why is it that I always seem to need to use the bathroom most right after I've gone to bed?

Now that we have so much choice on television, thanks to cable and satellite, why is it I can't never find anything I'm interested in watching?

If love is a battlefield, what's love got to do with it? And who did write the book of love anyway?

If Elvis Presley was the King of Rock and Roll, James Brown the Godfather of Soul, and Michael Jackson the Prince of Pop, what does that make Liberace? And where does that leave Prince in music's royal family?

How is possible that a country which put the first man on the moon also produced the Ford Pinto?

If common sense is so hard to find in people, what makes it common?

Why is it that a child who's grounded is in trouble while an adult who's grounded is generally respected?

If we actually paid people based on the value of their jobs to society, how much would the CEO of BP owe us?

Finally, if a person writes a blog and nobody reads it, is it still a blog? Or is it simply a diary? Okay, I'll stop. For now.

Monday, May 24, 2010

#68 - Something About Nothing

I realized tonight it has been three weeks since my last entry, so I thought I ought to write something. Like all great writers (so I'm told, not being one myself), I've perhaps been suffering of late from writer's block.

Or rather, I haven't been able to come up with a theme for an entry. So I have decided to write a little something about nothing. That is, I am going to write a bit of stream of consciousness about what has been going on in the last three weeks.

For a week or so, Spring teased us here in Idaho and acted as if it had finally decided to make its entrance, somewhat like a diva arriving fashionable late to her own party. Temperatures reached the upper 70s and low 80s, and we marked the occasion with a weekend at Bruneau Dunes State Park joining a local chapter of the Good Sams Club.

About a month and a half early, we had made the decision to join this chapter of the national RV group because we decided that sometimes it would be nice to go out with a group, and none of our friends seem all that much into camping or RVing.

We're kind of the youngsters in the group, but they all seem like nice people, and they seem for the most part more alive when we are out in a campground somewhere. Which is also how I feel a good deal of the time.

We've made two campouts with the group and plan to make at least three more. It's nice to have that variety of occasionally joining a group and sometimes going it alone. Variety does spice things up a bit, if you recall the old quote.

Since that outing to Bruneau Dunes, winter has tried to reclaim its position of control over Idaho's weather. We actually had snow on Saturday and a couple of days of rain before that. It may not be global warming, but it sure is not normal.

On the subject of not being normal, I continue to wage my battle with my childhood demons. I do feel like I am winning that war, but the only war making slower progress might be the war in Afghanistan. Still, progress is progress, and knowing how long the demons have ruled my life, I realize victory will not be achieved overnight. Getting out in the RV helps me in that fight, so I am glad every time we are able to get out, and we try to do that often.

Something we maybe don't do enough is bathe our beagle, Oliver. Tonight, though, it was decided that he had gone long enough. Bathing the dog is a two person job because, unlike most dogs I've ever seen, Oliver does not like water - except to drink - and does not like getting wet. If he has to go to the bathroom but it's wet outside, he will hold it.

So, I tried to hold Oliver steady while Teresa bathed him. Afterward, we dried him as best we could, then got out of the way. If you ever want to see a dog imitate a bat out of hell, come to our house and watch Oliver after he has had a bath. I swear, in that state, Oliver could possibly outrun the horses at Churchill Downs.

Before that, we had decided to hook up an old DVD player to see if it still worked and could be used in place of the one now somewhat inoperable after the recent break-in of our trailer.

We set it up on the kitchen table and put in a DVD to test in. Then we got absorbed in the movie. (I'll admit it, it was "Mamma Mia," and I am a big ABBA fan.)

So, there we are, sitting in the kitchen, watching a movie. Also not normal but perhaps definitely us.

In between, I've had a chance to visit with a friend and former co-worker during his visit from Arizona. I've taken our truck back to the shop for the third time in three months. And I've argued a little politics on Facebook and tried to learn to enjoy each and every day instead of saving it all up for "someday."

Perhaps my title, "Something About Nothing," was a misnomer. Each item, in and of itself, might seem like nothing or at least like not much. Taken together, however, they add up to nothing less than life itself. And that is nothing if not something.

Monday, May 3, 2010

#67 - If I Were King

I've been involved of late in a running Facebook debate generally about immigration reform and specifically about the Arizona immigration law. Facebook is probably not the ideal place for discussion matters of substance, but that is perhaps a debate for another time.

As part of that ongoing discussion, I was asked for my suggestions. I thought to myself, why stop at immigration reform. So, here are some of the things I would do if I were suddenly in charge. Not that anyone asked me about these other areas, of course.

1) Institute a tax credit for companies creating new jobs in America. The size of the credit would be based on the number of new, above minimum wage jobs the company creates, with extra credits going to those companies that create jobs in areas with unemployment rates above 10% and those companies creating new jobs in fields involving renewable resources.

Such a step would reward companies who step up to help the economy while leaving out those who seem intent merely on sending jobs overseas in order to boost profits.

2) Simplify America's income tax code. I would have two, maybe three tax rates, say 15 and 25% (or 10, 15, and 25%), with those having family incomes under $30,000 a year exempt and those with family incomes of $200,000 or more a year paying 25%. In addition, I would eliminate all tax deductions with the exception of allowing a deduction for charitable contributions for individuals of up to $5,000 or 5% of gross annual income, whichever is greater, without creating a negative tax balance. I would also leave the Earned Income Credit in place and perhaps expand it to include a scaled credit for child care for people earning up to $75,000 a year.

3) In line with that, I would create a tax credit for people who spend at least 100 hours a year in volunteer service.

4) Institute a 25% corporate income tax, again eliminating all deductions, with the exception of a deduction for charitable contributions of up to $1,000,000 or 2% of gross annual income, whichever is greater, again without creating a negative tax balance.

5) Institute a corporate tax credit for investment in infrastructure: new buildings, equipment, training programs, etc. of up to 25% of the cost. Companies would only be eligible to take such a credit once every five years.

6) Make all earned income subject to Social Security tax, with perhaps a sliding tax scale, say 2.5% on income up to $30,000 a year, 4.5% on income of $30,001 to $75,000 and the current 6.2% of income of $75,001 or more. Rich people collect Social Security regardless of their need; I think they can afford to help fund it a little better.

7) Speaking of Social Security, I would again make the Social Security fund off limits for all uses except the funding of Social Security payments.

8) Since the Facebook discussion had to do with immigration reform, here is what I would do in that area: Impose a fine on businesses caught and convicted of hiring illegal immigrants. A first offense would net a fine of $1,000,000 or 1% of gross revenues, whichever is less. A second offense would result in a fine of $5,000,000 or 5% of gross annual revenues, whichever is less. A third offense results in the seizure of the company's assets, a sort of corporate "three strikes and your out" program.

9) On the immigrant side of the equation, I would institute a temporary amnesty for any illegal immigrant, to last only for the extent of that person's application for citizenship. Under certain documented instances, such a person might be allowed to continue to work (if the person is the sole support for a family that includes one or more underage children, for instance) while the application process is underway.

Such people would not be denied citizenship solely on the basis of entering the country illegally. However, their fingerprints would be taken and, if they are caught re-entering the country after having an application for citizenship rejected for other reasons (previous criminal record or caught committing a crime in this country), they would be automatically deported with no right of appeal.

10) Finally, I would push to have a voting Representative for the District of Columbia. My reasoning is that, as things now stand, residents of Washington, D.C. are subject to "taxation without representation," one of the concepts that helped to galvanize the colonists prior to the American Revolution.

I'm sure I could come up with some other ideas if I were king, but that's a start.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

#66 - Thoughts on Success

Not to get too political, but in reading any number of conservative blogs and comments on various news stories one gets the impression that hard work and drive are all it takes to be successful and that anyone can do it.

But we can't all be successful, can we? Don't there have to be unsuccessful people against whom the "successful" can measure themselves to know they are in fact successes?

What exactly does it mean to be successful? There are any number of answers to that question, the vast majority of which seem to involve money at some level.

Success seems to be measured by car you drive, the house you live in, the amount of money you make, the toys you have. By those standards, I guess I am moderately successful. But it wasn't always so.

By those yardsticks, most of my life could be written off as a failure. In my first career in broadcasting, my income never topped $25,000 a year. I made enough to pay rent, eat, and to eventually pay off my student loans from college. Not exactly a rags to riches story.

Thanks in large part to the financial prudence of my wife Teresa (the real brains of the outfit) I might be considered a little more successful these days. I live in a nice house (not a McMansion but big enough for us) and drive what I think is a pretty nice truck, used for pulling our one toy, our fifth wheel trailer.

Yet there are, I suspect, people with smaller bank accounts than many of us whom I would consider more successful than I. They have found the one thing I have struggled to obtain for most of my life - a real joy or passion for living.

Their success is measured in ways having little to do with dollar signs or the things money can buy (sorry Madison Avenue): working in a job or field they truly love regardless of what it pays. Still having a touch of the reckless abandon they possessed in childhood. The ability to laugh openly, cry freely, live and love simply. The ability to marvel in a sunset and in the artistic ability required to paint one. Being happy in their own skin and in the place where they are.

Those are the types of small successes I am working toward. I am not consistently there, but I have moments. Turning out a tasty loaf of fresh-baked bread or preparing a meal that others enjoy are two of the ways I measure success these days. Finding something to smile about is another.

And so, I find myself back at my earlier question. We can't all be successful, can we? Well, maybe we can, but only if we stop measuring success the way an accountant might measure a company's financial solvency. Here's to success.

Monday, April 5, 2010

#65 - Easter Reflections

It is Monday evening as I write this, the Monday after Easter. Many are thinking about the just concluded national championship game in college basketball. Me, I am thinking about our just concluded weekend at Bruneau Dunes State Park, about 90-minutes southeast of Boise.

The dunes are a unique geological formation in that the wind patterns work in such a matter that the sand dune formations remain virtually the same year in, year out.

The dunes are, in essence timeless, a characteristic I try to apply to our trips, whether they last a few days or a week or more. Although we may bring a watch or a clock, we don't spend much time watching them or counting down toward anything.

I initially was going to call our trip a camping excursion, but I know some say it isn't camping unless you pitch a tent and roll out a sleeping bag on the hard ground. So I won't call it camping.

What I will call it is getting into my comfort zone. I find I am generally more comfortable and more relaxed when I am parked in a campground, even as opposed to relaxing at home. There are many reasons for that, I'm sure, but I suspect one of them is that a state of calm and serenity exists, and is even imposed by my surroundings.

Any chance I have to get away from the demands of everyday life, I want to take it. Sure, some of the demands are the same when we are set up in some campground, but they seem to take on a more timeless aspect. Most things don't have to be done within a certain time frame. Time itself is measured in terms of today and tomorrow and not in terms of minutes and hours.

One of the things I like best about hitching up the trailer and going out of town is that I get to engage in one of my favorite activities, cooking. I don't mean the "it's 5:30, I just got home from work and need to fix dinner" kind of cooking. I mean the "I have as much time as I want to spend, so what would I like to make" kind of cooking.

So, our Easter weekend at Bruneau Dunes meant chicken and dumplings, home-baked bread, ribs, and dutch oven pizza. And, for Easter morning breakfast, a chance to work on presentation, with an arrangement of cottage cheese, sliced apple, and a hard boiled egg that I titled Venus Fly trap.

Every time we hitch up the trailer and head out somewhere, we manage to combine the best aspects of our home life with the splendor of creation. We read, watch movies, hike, take pictures, and basically spend a good deal more time together. This weekend was no exception.

It was yet another wonderful weekend away from the day to day. I've come to expect nothing less from our excursions, which is why I always look forward to them.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

#64 - The Best Medicine

With the ongoing debate regarding health care reform, I originally intended to weigh in with my opinion. Then I decided to take a different approach and explore one of the best things we can do for our health: laugh.

As the old proverb says, "Laughter is the best medicine." Who among us has not immediately felt a little better after a good laugh? Unless, of course, you start laughing while drinking a soda or some other liquid which then begins to exit from places it was never meant to travel. In that case, everyone else feels better after a good laugh at your expense.

Here are some notable quotes regarding laughter:
  • "Laughter is part of the human survival kit." - David Nathan
  • "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people." - Victor Borge
  • "Laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects." - Arnold Glasgow
  • "Seven days without laughter make one weak." - Joel Goodman
  • "Laughter is an instant vacation." - Milton Berle
  •  "the most wasted of all days is one without laughter." - e.e. cummings

I got to thinking about the power of laughter after reading replies to a  Facebook post I made, in jest, wondering whether people understood my sense of humor. I decided to write this after reflecting on the heated and borderline hateful exchanges that take place on a seemingly daily basis between those on the left and those on the right. What these people need is a good pie in the face.

To paraphrase e.e. cummings, there have been many wasted days in my life, days when I did not laugh. Those days do not occur as often these days. That is partly due to having a five-year old beagle with the spirit of a puppy. Part of it is simply due to learning to see the humor around me.

Laughter has a number of benefits. It lowers blood pressure. It increases coordination of brain functions. It can even serve as a more enjoyable alternative to exercise. One doctor says 20 seconds of unrestrained laughter has as much benefit for the heart as three minutes of hard rowing. Laughter is no laughing matter.

Then again, it is. I find my days and evenings are more enjoyable if, at some point during the day, I find something (or someone) that makes me laugh. I daresay that a great many of the issues confronting us would seem less daunting and easier to solve if we could find a sliver of humor in them or if we simply took a laughter break.

Research also indicates that laughter increases production of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers. As Groucho Marx once said, "A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast." So make a point to laugh, even if it's at my expense. I don't mind.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

#63 - Random Musings

I don't really have a specific topic, but I realized I had not posted in a while, so I hope you'll forgive this series of brief and random reflections.

All weekends should be three-day weekends. Two days just doesn't seem enough time to recover and unwind from the previous week. It also is not enough of a buffer before the start of the week to come.

To me, it doesn't get much better than a Saturday afternoon sitting in a nice wooded campground, enjoying a nice glass of wine or a cold beer. Unless, of course, it is a Saturday evening in a nice wooded campground, enjoyed a nice glass of wine and a juicy grilled steak.

Television would be much better if it were a little less "real." Reality TV? Who are they kidding? What is so real about about putting a bunch of strangers and making them perform a number of artificially contrived challenges? And how many people do you know who can work out six to eight hours a day every day to drop 200 pounds of excess weight?

Anyone who claims insight into the will of God is either a con artist or is delusional. I now believe that no one faith has a monopoly on the Truth and that two people can have fundamentally different beliefs yet both be right - and wrong - at the same time.

I am discouraged by the name-calling and bickering that passes for political debate these days. Perhaps if we could find a way to concentrate of the ways in which we are alike instead of focusing on our differences we might better be able to find solutions to the issues our modern world faces.

Could it be that ignorance truly is bliss. I find I am much more peaceful on those days when I do not read the news or the political ramblings of others. I am much more at ease when I do not take the bait and respond to those with whom I disagree, for they cannot hear me anyway.

When I was younger, I loved to talk politics and to even argue politics with others. These days, I love to cook and take the trailer out for a weekend. Somehow, I think I am much better off.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Out of Control on Memory Lane

Since creating a Facebook account several months ago, I have been traveling back and forth through my past, reconnecting at least superficially with people I knew and worked with in my other life as a television reporter and later news producer.

I have found people from various places I worked: Rapid City, SD; Lafayette, LA; Kalispell, MT; Huntsville, AL. It has been an amazing journey down memory lane, but there are time it seems I am traveling a bit out of control. Tonight was one of those nights.

While checking in on Facebook tonight, I came across a Facebook group created for people who work or worked at KEVN-TV in Rapid City, my first news job. While looking through the photo album posted, I came across some very familiar faces from my time there in the 1980s.

Commenting on some of the photos, I said that time was one of the happiest in my life, even though I was working for a fairly low salary. (I started in 1983 at the princely sum of $9,200 a year.) Filtered through the time span of 25 years, I remember those days fondly. Looking at the photos also brought back some not so good memories.

In those days, I had a hard time making real friends and getting close to people. I suppose you could say I lacked the skill or the knack. I'm sure I alternated between trying to hard to make people like me and trying hard to act like I didn't care whether they liked me.

Part of it, I think, at least in those days, was a sense that I didn't really fit in with the rest of the staff. I don't know if any other members of the news staff felt the same way, but I felt at times unqualified and like an impostor. I had no college degree and no real background or training in journalism.

I got into television news because I liked to write and wanted to do so professionally. That is also the reason I eventually moved behind the camera as a news producer and the reason I left the business in 1993, after other facets of the job began to dominate the writing aspect.

Despite the personal difficulties I had in those days, I have very fond memories of Rapid City and of the people I worked with. I remember having a Fiat Strada with plastic interior door handles that broke off one winter because it was so cold.

I remember trying to get back up to the TV station one snowy December day and having to help push the car through a snow drift. I also remember a certain co-worked getting up on the table in a bar after his first experience (several glasses in the making) with a Long Island Ice Tea.

I remember doing a story on the still unfinished Crazy Horse monument, hanging off the side of the mountain by a rope, with only the guide's strength of grip between me and death. The whole time, I remember worrying not about dying but about dropping and breaking the then-new camera I had been allowed to use to shoot the story. The camera got back safely.

Most of all, I remember the great people I worked with and feel a deep sadness that I did not try harder to do a better job of staying in touch with them. I find myself wondering where they are now and hoping they might remember those days as fondly as I do.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Older I get

When I was a kid, I was a bit out of the ordinary. I really enjoyed politics and political discussions. And I loved political arguments.

When I was younger, such arguments seemed to be about the merits of a position and the reasons for that position. This new century, coming as it does in the midst of this so-called Information Age, has seen a change in such arguments and not for the better.

The Information Age, bringing with it almost instantaneous access to any kind of information and the 24-hour news cycle has all but killed true political debate and with it thoughtful reflection. Instead, reactions are nearly as instant as the stories they respond to.

We have become a knee-jerk nation. Instead of truly considering and debating positions, our political leaders and their followers call each other liars, morons, and sometimes worse. I'm not surprised that nothing gets done on what many see as the major issues of our day: health care, immigration, the economy.

There seem to be fewer and fewer reasoned voices on either the left or the right. Because of that, the party in power is doomed to failure from the moment they take power. Every two or four years, I think the pendulum will swing back in the opposite direction, and both major parties will be so dizzy from the constant shifting, they won't be able to clear their heads long enough to get anything done, at least nothing worthwhile.

When I was in my 20s, I had a friend call me a radical and say that I would get more conservative once I got older. I don't think I have except when it comes to my view of the prospects of government accomplishing anything.

I have become very disillusioned about our government, primarily because they always seem to talk about doing something and then fail to follow through and actually do it.

Sadly, I don't think either major party has a recipe for success. Government for government's sake (what those on the right might argue the Democrats are all about) is not the answer. However, the less is more, hands-off and abdicate all responsibility approach of Republicans and Libertarians is no answer, either.

I have lived long enough not to trust the private sector to police itself or do anything to benefit the greater good. (Anyone remember Enron, Three Mile Island, the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez crash?) However, I have no confidence in government to act to rein in the excesses of private enterprise.

And so, in the midst of my middle age, I have lost interest in politics and political debate. The political era I reveled in during my youth is gone. Maybe it never really existed. Part of me wonders if perhaps it is finally time for us to admit that this Grand Experiment, as Alexis de Tocqueville called it in Democracy in America, has failed. Money talks, and the rest of us are silenced.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Scar Tissue

In this week's session, my therapist and I talked about the emotional plateau I've been on for a little while now and the difficulty I've had truly freeing myself up emotionally.

I likened it to the notion of emotional scar tissue, tissue that is somewhat malformed yet is in some ways much stronger than the original tissue it replaced.

As I have thought back through the years to the memories of my childhood, there is a distinct line that seems to indicate where my childhood effectively ended. In pictures I have of me as a three-year old, I am laughing and smiling at the world around me. In pictures of me as a nine and ten-year old, the smile is gone, replaced by a sort of grimace intended to represent a smile but falling well short.

In-between, I all but shut down emotionally, only displaying emotional in the most intense moments, when I could no longer hold them in. It was a defense mechanism designed to protect me from what was going on around me, but it became a prison, a barrier that kept me from being able to fully engage with the world around me.

In discussing this with my therapist, I have come to think of it as something akin to my growth (emotional in this case) being stunted. I either forgot or never learned how to play with or interact with others. My world became what I read in books, heard in songs on the radio or stereo, or made up in the fantasy worlds I created in my head as a means of escape and of holding onto hope that there was a better life for me somewhere else.

I guess one could think of it as a sort of emotional fetal position which protected me, but the fallout of this was that I remained distant from people. I was not able to get close to them and did not let or encourage them to get close to me. Fear of rejection and of abandonment were at play here, the reason for which could fill another several posts, I suspect.

I recently connected on Facebook with someone I worked with many years ago in Lafayette, Louisiana. In an exchange of messages, she mentioned knowing that I was sad while I lived and worked there. And I was, although I foolishly thought I was hiding that so well from the world around me.

I was sad because I wanted to get close to people and have them get close to me. I was afraid at the same time that people would reject me once they knew what I was really like because I had tried so hard and for so long to suppress that. Beyond that, I lacked the emotional tools to encourage or develop meaningful friendships.

I have moved to a better place these days. My therapist says I can go back, through the scar tissue, to retrieve those emotions buried since childhood. I expressed the concern that in retrieving "good" emotions from that time I would end up bring back all of the "bad" emotions I tried so hard to bury. She says i can choose which emotions to bring into the present from that time, but a part of me still isn't sure.

In the meantime, I continue to inch forward, become more aware of who I really am, where I've been and where I want to go. Who I am is a sometimes funny, sometimes introspective, and sometimes absent-minded middle-age man who is learning to better enjoy life and learning to like himself a little better on the way to perhaps one day loving himself.

Where I have been is the emotional equivalent of bumper cars, a ride that has left me bumped and bruised and slightly impaired but still here. As Elton John sang, "I'm still standing."

Where I want to go is a place and time where I am able to freely express my emotions and not hold them in until there is no more room and they burst out in some sort of explosion. I hope to reach a place where I feel free to feel or not feel instead of sometime thinking I can't feel. I haven't quite gotten there, but I think I can see that place in the distance.

I am not quite ready to commit to the notion that I am happy (that just sounds too hopeful), but I will say I am fairly content these days, and for me, that in and of itself is a big victory.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Out of Sync

For years, I have struggled and failed (sometimes miserably) to develop emotionally. My therapist says that more than likely my emotional growth was stunted early in my childhood, out of necessity and a need to protect myself from the trauma around me, while my intellectual side was given free reign to develop. My emotions have been struggling to catch up ever since.

Growing up, my intellectual side developed to the point that I became almost a walking, talking game of Trivial Pursuit, even before the game was ever created. My cousins teased me, calling me "Professor," not realizing how much it stung, nor was I able to tell them. Instead, I tried to laugh it off, even while realizing the label meant I did not and would not fit in with the rest of them.

That does not mean I never expressed emotion, but because of the ways in which I developed and did not develop, emotions were only expressed when reaching the highest peaks or the deepest valleys. In other words, the emotion or feeling had to be so strong it could no longer be held in check; emotion was never something I freely expressed otherwise.

My lack of emotional development meant feelings had no place, no room in my everyday world because they were not on the same plane as my thoughts. It has been much like a right-handed person trying to do something predominantly with his or her left hand; it is extremely uncomfortable, and the effort usually ends after a short time.

For the past 14 months, I have been trying to uncover repressed memories and feelings and to free myself up emotionally. I feel I have made some real strides in that time, but occasionally things happen to remind me of just how far I still have to go.

Tonight, I lapsed into defensiveness when Teresa asked me whether I had taken care of something she had asked me to take care of on several previous occasions. For one reason or another (forgetfulness, procrastination, or a combination), I had not completed the task. I suppose that at some deep level I have an imprinted memory of coming under attack as a child, to the point where defensiveness is almost a reflexive reaction. Teresa called me on it, I recognized it, and we were able to defuse the situation before one or both of us was hurt.

This episode was a stark reminder of how much work remains to bring my emotional and intellectual sides into balance with one another. However, writing this actually helps to bring the two sides closer together.

My therapist this week said that this blog serves as a connecting thread between the intellectual and the emotional side. Here, I am able to write about things I have great difficulty expressing verbally, thereby getting the emotions out and not keeping them bottled in. At the same time, I am able to think about what I am trying to say and about how I want to say it, thereby exercising the intellectual side.

The thread connecting the two is tenuous at times, but there is a connection. I feel at times like a car whose wheels are out of alignment. But now, at least, the wheels are all turning in the same direction. Usually, anyway.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Primal Scream

In my last post, I mentioned that I was going to find a secluded spot and give in to my need or urge to scream, something my therapist thought might help me to loosen the lid on long repressed feelings. Well, I did. And I didn't.

I did not find that secluded spot, but I did scream. I screamed and I screamed while driving in the hills. At the time, though, it felt like the only things loosened were my fillings, as I ended up with a headache and a slightly sore throat.

My therapist says the headache is a symptom of very deep and repressed emotions from my childhood. She may be right. I do know that after my screaming I also had a desire to rant, or to borrow the name of a 1990s band, rage against the machine.

What came to mind was part rant, part rap, part poem, all in short, choppy phrases, something my therapist said was akin to how a child might react and respond to the situations I experienced growing up:

O, God!
No, God!
Why, God?
How, God?
What God?
Where God?
Whose God?
Which God?
When God?

While a few of these phrases have been added after reflection, most of these phrases/questions came to me in the moment immediately after the last scream. A crisis of faith, a cry for answers, a plea for relief, maybe all of the above.

All I know is that I have traveled further (and perhaps farther) in the last 14 months than I had in the previous 52 years of life. The screaming and the brief rant/rap that followed show me still how far I have yet to go.

My head tells me I should just let the past go. My heart, though, says that for better or worse that past is a big part of who I am and of how I got to this place in time. The answer for me lies somewhere in-between.

In the battle to protect myself as a child, I numbed myself to everything around me, which kept me at arms' length from nearly everyone who ever entered my life. Now, I need to dig through the scar tissue to get back to the emotions nearly cut off so long ago, so that I can make my peace with the past, be fully part of the life I now have, and look forward to the future.

I may never truly reach that point, but I have already come further than I dared to hope was possible, so there is hope. And as long as there is hope, there is life.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Emotional Plateau

A couple of months ago, I had made enough progress in my twice-weekly therapy sessions that my therapist agreed I was ready to cut back to once a week. Since then, the progress has slowed considerably.

Each Wednesday, my therapist opens the session by asking "What are you feeling?" or, sometimes, "How are you feeling?" The answer to the second question is much easier for me. These days, I generally feel pretty good, much better than when I started therapy 13 months ago.

The answer to the first and more often asked question is much more difficult to come by. Truth be told, I don't know if I am feeling all that much. Today, finally, I was able to put it into words to at least describe where I am at.

Because I knew she would ask me that question, I actually thought about it as I climbed the stairs to her second-floor office. What came to mind was a sense of having stagnated or plateaued emotionally. I feel I have gotten to a comfortable place emotionally, much better than I have ever been but still not fully engaged emotionally in my own life.

She talked about the idea of there being a lid on things, one I put in place as a child as a means to protect myself while living in a violent household. We talked about my wanting to become invisible so as to not draw attention and possibly the wrath of an abusive stepfather or stepbrother. I stayed hidden as much as possible in the shadows.

She went to talk about the idea of my childhood ending when I was very young because of the circumstances in the home, and I have an increased sense of that. From at least the age of five until the age of 12, I never had other kids come over to our house to play, and I never went to anyone else's house to play.

As our session unfolded, I recalled an episode from around the time I was five. I had a favorite toy, a sort of scaled version of a car interior: there was a dashboard with windshield, wipers, steering wheel, dashboard, and working radio. I loved playing with it.

One day, an older boy (I think it was my future stepbrother, although I am not sure) took this toy and threw it into the swimming pool of our apartment complex. Without thinking, I went in after it, blindly disregarding the fact that I had not yet learned to swim.

Fortunately, I guess, I also did not yet know how to dive, so I landed fairly close to the edge of the pool when I jumped in and was able to grab the side of the pool, saving myself while the toy sank to the bottom of the pool. Thinking back on it, I think that was the moment when I decided not to let anything (or possibly anyone) matter that much to me again. I disciplined myself not to be ticklish and not to show pain when I was spanked. I got very good at closing myself off.

As we talked, she would ask me from time to time how something made me feel. One time, I surprised myself by saying I felt like I wanted to scream. She said that was a good first step to finally blowing off the lid to my emotional life and suggested I find a place to do just that, somewhere by myself and, hopefully, somewhere that I won't cause an avalanche (the avalanche danger is fairly high at the moment in some of the areas around us).

Sometime in the next few days, I intend to take her advice. It will be a new experience for me, as I don't know that I've ever screamed. Yelled, yes. Screamed, I don't think so.

If this weekend you hear a loud roar or noise off in the distance, don't be too alarmed. It will likely be me screaming as loud as I can muster, in hopes of chipping away the emotional rust and prying loose the lid and maybe letting some light back in.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Counting My Blessings

Every year around Christmas, we sit down to watch the 1954 film "White Christmas" with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen. With the recent events in Haiti, culminating in the impromptu telethon put together by MTV, one song from that movie pops into my head.

The song is "Count Your Blessings," and the first verse goes like this:
When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
Sometimes, disasters of such scale as that in Haiti serve to remind us how fortunate we are. I have a loving, patient, and understanding wife; a wonderful son who is sometimes challenging yet amazing. Unlike many in our own country, I have a job with somewhat decent health insurance, and I am able to do many of things I truly enjoy: camping, cooking, enjoying a glass of wine, enjoy a sunset without worrying whether I'll have a roof over my head when it gets dark and turns colder.

If there can be said to be anything positive out of events like the earthquake in Haiti, perhaps it is that such cataclysmic disasters jolt us - even for a moment - out of our complacency and remind us of our own mortality and also of our own good fortune. Such events can bring out the worst in people - remember the looting in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and even now the attempts by some to scam those unsuspecting people trying to help the victims in Haiti - but it can also bring out the best in people.

One thing I hope this disaster does for me and for you is to remind us of how precious life is and encourage us to live each day to its fullest. By that, I do not mean through conspicuous consumption, as is often seen to be the American Way. No, I mean by taking time to really see the world and the people around you.

Take the time to smell a rose, savor a walk in the woods, really see a sunrise or sunset, say hello to a neighbor or a co-worker, laugh, cry, truly be in the world around you. These are all things I have spent the last year in therapy trying to learn to do as I continue my own recovery efforts from the emotional upheaval of so many years ago and attempt to dig out from under that emotional rubble.

My hope is that the recovery effort in Haiti shows as much promise in a year's time as I feel my own personal recovery has shown over the last year. If you have not already done so, I encourage you to open your hearts and your wallets and make a donation to help relief efforts in Haiti at Hope For Haiti Now. And always remember to count your blessings.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Art of Patience at 30 Miles an Hour

Around Thanksgiving, Teresa and I decided it was time for us to climb another rung up the recreational vehicle ladder. It was something we had discussed off and on for several months. The discussion usually went back and forth between a motor home and a fifth wheel trailer. We ultimately chose the fifth wheel route, the purchase of which I have outlined in an earlier entry.

Of course, to tow any trailer, we would need to get a truck. So we traded in our beloved 2006 Subaru Outback on a 2006 Ford F-350 Super Duty Crew cab truck with dual real wheels and a diesel engine.

Needless to say, the truck does not get the same fuel mileage as our Subaru. Every day, I try all kinds of tricks to coax another tenth of a mile per gallon in mileage. For instance, I start out slowly from a stop sign or stop light, especially when the engine is still cold. I also take my foot of the gas - as much as a block away - when approaching a stop sign or a red light.

In addition to that extra tenth of a mile per gallon (or even two), I have gained something else: a growing sense of calm. I no longer feel in such a rush to get somewhere, and I realize that one or two minutes really doesn't make much of a difference in the greater scheme of things.

In the past, I used to get more irritated with drivers who would speed up and cut in front of me. I used to go a little faster just so they would have to get in behind me. Now, because this truck is geared more for towing than it is for quick acceleration, I couldn't keep another vehicle from pulling in front of me if I wanted to. More often than not these days, I don't want to.

I watch cars speed by me, then see them idling at the next red light when I catch up to them. They didn't seem to gain very much.

The ancient fable about the tortoise and the hare has the oft-repeated mantra of "slow and steady wins the race," but racing is far from my thoughts. Instead, I think more of slowing down and being more aware of the world around me, slowing down to see and experience my world instead of racing from one day to the next as if I were late for an appointment.

I spent many years trying to escape the world around me, so this is a new experience for me, and I have some work yet to do. So far, though, I like what I see. I am reminded of the opening lines of Simon and Garfunkel's 59th Street Bridge Song: "Slow down, you move too fast. You've got to make the morning last." Now, that's a goal to hurry toward.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Finer Things in Life

I'm sitting here at my computer on a Thursday evening, and instead of watching the National Championship game between Texas and Alabama, I'm reflecting on an episode of Oprah that my wife, Teresa, recorded because she thought I might be interested.

It turns out she was right. In general, the show was about women around the world and how they live. Oprah talked to women in Copenhagen, Dubai, Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul, and Tokyo. It was the segment with the women from Copenhagen that most interested and and intrigued me.

Apparently, a recent study or poll concluded that people in Denmark are the happiest people in the world. This, despite the fact that they pay the highest average income tax rate in the world of around 50-percent.

What makes them so happy? First, everyone has access to health care. People get paid to go to school. Women get six-months to a year of maternity leave. Most jobs pay similar incomes, so people go into fields because they enjoy them and not simply because they pay well.

There is almost no homelessness, almost no crime, and people who lose their jobs are supported for up to four years while they look for new work and get government help to learn new skills. As one of the Danish women put it, she is happy to pay the high income tax rate because she looks at it as people helping one another and taking care of each other. Some in America would look at these things and label Denmark socialist. The Danes interviewed by Oprah look at it as being civilized and being humane.

One other thing the Danish women said that I think speaks to the heart of why the Danes might be so happy is that they have less stuff. They are more interested in living life and spending time with friends and family than they are working to get more stuff, which seems to be the American Dream or at least the American way of life. Could there really be more to life than money?

I think that is one reason the full-time RV life appeals to me so much; it is more about living life and doing things and less about getting stuff. One Danish husband put it this way when describing living in Denmark: "less space, less stuff, more life."

As I sit here typing this and enjoying a glass of wine, I think the idea of "less space, less stuff, more life" has much to recommend it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Resolutions for the New Year

When I was younger, I would every New Year's Eve, without fail, make ten resolutions for the new year, resolutions I would invariably fail to keep. For many years, this was probably the only systemic and organized thing I would do.

After many years (I'm a slow learner), I realized that the only thing as consistent as my making these resolutions was my failure to keep any of them. So I stopped making them.

Last year, I decided to try again. I resolved to try to put my past behind me and finally stop letting it control my life. While I was not 100% successful in keeping this resolution, I made enough progress to encourage me to try again this year. So here goes.

In 2010, I resolve to embrace and enjoy life more fully. I feel I am already along the path toward accomplishing this. I laugh more (thanks in large part to Oliver, our beagle), I probably cry a little more, and I more fully appreciate and enjoy nature, especially sunsets. I intend to do more of these things in 2010.

I also resolve to try harder not to let little things bother or irritate me. This will be easier said than done. I have a real problem with idiot drivers who speed to get past me, get in front of me, and then slow down or turn. I'll at least try harder to clean up my language toward such drivers when these things occur.

I was going to try to come up with a third resolution, but I realized that these two cover most contingencies. As an author once wrote, don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff. If I manage to have any success keeping my second resolution, it all but guarantees I will have success keeping my first resolution.

I hope 2010 brings much happiness and success to each of you. And I resolve to be happy for you when that happens. There, that's three. Happy New Year!