I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Tag Archives: life choices
A Peek Inside
September 8, 2013Posted by on
I’ve learned a few things this weekend. Learned may be the wrong word. Maybe Just continued evolving. For good or bad.
First up, I went to see The Butler last night. It was an unexpected, last minute decision to go to see a movie I didn’t have that much interest in seeing, which isn’t that unusual. I’m turned off by almost everything that is playing in movie theaters these days. But with one kid away at college and the other itching to spend the evening with friends, the opportunity for dinner out matched with a last minute call from friends to see the movie meant that instead of making pizza and writing I found myself in a movie theater.
The Butler tells the story of Cecil Gaines, who grows up the son of a sharecropper in Georgia before running away and eventually becoming a butler at the White House, where he works for almost 30 years, a period spanning Eisenhower to Reagan and every President in between. The story is based on the real life story of Eugene Allen.
A bit of a segue here. Here’s a fact-checking article about the movie. Eugene Allen served from Truman to Reagan. In the movie, Cecil joins the White House in the late ’50’s, when Eisenhower was President. Here was the odd thing, when Cecil arrives for his first day of work at the White House Robin Williams is the actor playing the President — and he looks amazingly like Harry Truman and not Dwight D. Eisenhower. In reading the article, it turns out that many of the elements that make up the arc of the movie aren’t actually true. Which is disappointing.
But back to what I learned. My entire adult life I have spent fascinated by certain things, the civil rights movement being one. I have never flinched from the reality of the movement and the hate with which many Americans responded to the dignity of MLK, the Freedom Riders, and others involved in the movement. The movie replays some of that as Cecil struggles with his role as a black butler in the White House and his fictionalized son who is very involved as a Freedom Rider and briefly a member of the Black Panther Party. I found myself no longer able to watch the scenes of assaults on the civil rights protesters. The water cannons, the beatings, the firebombings, the police dogs, etc. I simply could not watch these scenes, both real news reel and fictionalized for purposes of the movie, that represent such a dark, hateful period of our life. There was a point at which I wanted to walk out of the theater because I simply did not want to watch any more of it.
I’m done being fascinated with the dark chapters in our history, the evil that lurks in our past, the examples of horrors we inflict on ourselves and on each other. I will not hide from it, but I no longer need to dwell there either. It’s all part of replacing hate with love, don’t you think?
What about you? Do you turn away from the ugliness of the human race? Or do you wallow it because it is, in fact, a part of who we are?
Thinking about the above led me further down a path. I started thinking about this pocket I find myself in. Dissatisfaction with a lot of aspects of my life. Some would say that I’m in a mid-life crisis. I think it’s different than that. I’m not getting the expensive sports car. I’m not going after a newer, younger model of wife/girlfriend. I’m not quitting my job to buy a sailboat and sail the seven seas. I think it goes deeper than that. (Although none of those things I just described I would object to.)
I am in the process of identifying the things that matter to me. Plotting a course to an end place where I can surround myself with those things and people and places. Part of that is also eliminating elements of my life that cause more harm than good.
Here’s an example. For a dozen years, I coached my kids in their sports. Baseball and soccer. Last year was the first year that I had no coaching obligations. I tried being a soccer referee. This year I’m not even doing that. Instead, I’m hoping to do only this — to go watch my younger son’s games and then leave those games behind. Anybody who has gone through youth sports knows that there is simply far too much drama and trauma involved. It is a life I have lived for the past dozen years and I am ready to leave it behind.
This is not a complaint about that time. It was well spent. I loved watching my kids play their sports. I loved the opportunity to be their coach and help not just them, but other kids, learn how to play, to compete, to love the game. I will always look back at the time I spent coaching my kids as one of the best “moments” of my life. I wouldn’t replace it for the world.
But, it also turned me into something I never was before. I got too caught up in the bad aspects of youth sports. Yelling at referees. Arguing with other coaches. Taking things far more seriously than needed. It’s a game and there were times when I let emotions lead to unfortunate actions on my part.
And, I’m done with that. I’m leaving it behind.
There are other examples, but it comes down to this. My oldest son will turn nineteen in January, he’s off for his freshman year of college. My youngest is two years behind him. I’m beginning to close the door on a chapter of my life that has spanned almost twenty years. That of being a parent. Of being responsible for so many things in so many ways.
In some odd way, my reaction to The Butler is also a part of this. I’m beginning to move on from some of the many things that have been a part of me for most of my adult life. I’m beginning to look for something else to fill my soul. It’s something other than politics and hate, war and trauma, fighting battles both large and small. It’s this other thing. About finding peace and letting go of responsibility. About finding beauty and love. Enjoying little things and letting go of the things that don’t matter. As I’ve said before, it’s about finding the place where I can be me. Just me.
What about you? Are you in a mid-life crisis? Are you constantly evolving? Or do things stay the same and you’re good with that?
I learned two things from walking this week.
Walking affects different body parts than running. This should be clear, but I’m shocked nonetheless. When I ran, most of my pain and discomfort was in my calves, knees and feet. Now that I’m walking (7.5 mile walk yesterday, 9.5 mile walk today), particularly with the longer walks, I’m experiencing the pain and discomfort in completely different areas. My feet don’t hurt, it doesn’t bother my calves, and my knees are OK so far. No, where walking bothers me is in my hamstrings, my hips, and the ol’ gluteus maximus. Very odd.
There is actually one area where walking bothers my feet. When I ran, I would hear stories about runners who run longer distances experiencing horrendous blisters on their toes and feet. With my longest runs only hitting half-marathon length, I never, ever had blisters on my feet. Now, walking has provided me with four blisters on my right foot. And they are blood blisters. Right now, I’m looking at an ugly one on the tip of the second toe wondering how the hell did it get there and thinking I’m going to need to tape it up as I head out the door in the next couple of minutes for another long walk. And also wondering where the next blister will show up.
The other thing I learned was really more of a refresher. I’ve been in a much better mood over the last week or two. And I haven’t understood why, but I know that I’ve just been in that happy space a little more. Even if nothing has really changed in the fundamental dynamics of my life.
I realized why that was while out on my walk today. I’m exercising again. Regularly and consistently. Every day. There is definitely something to be said for the mental health value of regular exercise. Or maybe it’s just the endorphins monkeying with my brain chemistry.
Hitting the Curveball Thrown By Life
May 13, 2013Posted by on
When my oldest was five he started playing t-ball and soccer. A year or two later, he was put on a team that became like a second family for all of us for the next few years. Four of us dads, who didn’t know each other (except for the two that were brother-in-laws), began to coach together that year.
We joined forces for the next few years, spending the late winter and early spring months on the baseball field with our sons and those of ten or so other parents. Our objective. To have fun, winning came second. We drafted kids who we believed were quality kids who didn’t have “little league” parents. Usually, we were successful. We laughed more than we yelled. The kids lost more than they won. Over time, though, I’d like to believe they still had fun.
We had nicknames for every kid ever season. The coaches’ kids: Pieces, Whiskers, Scotty Law, Choach. They changed at times, but those were the ones I remember the most. The coaches acquired nicknames as well at one point. The Quiet One (most definitely sarcasm there), the Godfather, Flip-Flop (which never stuck), and I was the Barefoot Lawyer when I wasn’t Frodo — so named for my need to run around at practice and at games in my hairy barefeet.
As with most good things, it came to an end a few years ago. Choach’s parents got divorced and when his mom got hooked up with a psycho boyfriend, he couldn’t play baseball. His dad, at the age of 35, still played adult baseball on Sundays with 20-year-olds. Choach when he was only eight or nine would go with his dad to his practices and hold his own. The kid was one of those special ones — natural talent, a love of the game, and a desire to do the work to excel. And, it was ruined by an idiot adult.
My son, when he was eleven or twelve, moved on to another team because he was a year older than the other three and there comes a point when that makes a difference. He went from our hang loose, have a good time, motley group to a team coached by a super competitive jerk. The assistant coach was a former NBA player. There were all-stars at almost every position. And, my son, who had pitched and played catcher every season up until then, couldn’t buy a chance to do those things with this team. I will never forgive the coach for continuing to promise to my son that he would get a chance to pitch and not following through on that promise. My son learned that year that sports coaches can often be pricks. His love of playing sports soured a bit and I ached so many times watching his dejection.
He spent the last two years back with his old coaches again, when their kids moved up the next year. The first year back was a struggle. He injured his elbow and shoulder and couldn’t throw the ball for weeks. He got to hit, but didn’t play in the field for most of the season. The last season, the injuries remained and his baseball career was over. Primarily because he wasn’t interested in doing the physical therapy exercises needed to strengthen his damaged wing.
But, that’s not what this story is really about. That’s not the curveball I want to talk about.
One of the coaches worked in a construction trade at the time. A year after we started coaching together, he also got divorced. And, then he hurt his back and eventually had to go out on disability because he couldn’t work the job anymore. A year or two later, he had a girlfriend. They now live together. He has two teenage sons. She has two teenage daughters. And, they’re both smacking the hell out of life’s curveballs.
Instead of wallowing in being “disabled,” he went back to school. He’s now in his late 40’s (I think) and he’s been back at college for the last four or five years. He’s this close <> to getting his degree. Last I heard he wants to go into counseling or some social service position working with substance abusers. His girlfriend? She’s also back at school, pursuing a degree in nursing and she’s that close as well. It’s amazing how much they sweat the hard work to do well in their search for an education and an opportunity to better themselves. And, they have these four incredible kids. Each of them plays an instrument. The boys play baseball — Whiskers was the starting pitcher today in an opening round 8-0 victory for his high school. The girls play soccer and cheer.
They’re the type of adults who should be held up and celebrated. They’ve fought through some tough times, but they’ve never stopped swinging.
A Necessary Ramble
January 17, 2013Posted by on
Somewhere around eighteen years ago, around the birth of the most Senior Junior Midget (and, yes, for those who have known me all these years, the little zygote will be turning eighteen in just eleven very short days), I commented to my siblings and parents that I thought it would be a good idea if we could write down stories of relatives past and present so that the next generation would know more about their ancestors and where they came from.
I was thinking about this: the story about my great uncle who died when somebody stuck an axe in his back.
Or this: how my grandmother was told by the town witch (in Rottenturm, Switzerland) she would marry a boy who rode by on a bicycle and a few years later, after WW I ended and my grandmother immigrated to America … and married the boy on that bicycle.
Or this: how my grandfather died in a construction accident when my mother was young and her mother was pregnant with my uncle.
Or … all these stories lost in the memories of people who grow old and forget the details.
For the most part, although my family wholeheartedly agreed with the idea, nothing came of it. My mother produced a few pages of memories. Then, a year later, my mother called me one afternoon to ask if she and my father could come over. “There’s something we want to give you,” she said, cryptically.
They arrived and my father, who is a writer, handed me, in approximately 130 single spaced pages, the story of his life. It was, possibly, the greatest gift he could have given me. After they left, I read it and completed it the next night and cried when I was done. The reasons why are a story for another day.
But, if my memory is correct, in the introduction to the volume he handed me he acknowledged that my idea contributed to his work and stated that I was thoughtful, not in the sense that I was thoughtful of others (although I’d like to think I have that quality as well), but in the sense that I was “full of thoughts.”
I read that and thought what an incredible compliment he had paid me.
A couple of years later, the less Senior, more Junior Junior Midget entered my life.
I was a father of two boys. Life took a serious turn. I had responsibilities.
For years I have defined myself as a father and believed, and acted, as though there was nothing more important than my role as my kids’ dad. I wanted kids, and in the having of them, I committed to a sacrifice of myself. There was a good that was greater than the selfishness of me that was my goal.
Here’s where I interrupt this and acknowledge that, along the way over the last eighteen years, I have certainly engaged in my own pursuits. It is not like I have devoted every waking moment to the feeding of my children. I took up golf, I took up writing, I tried to learn the guitar and the saxophone, took up running, and more or less never stopped finding little things to feed myself as well. For, as I have told people more than was necessary, I have always believed that, to be the best father I could possibly be, I also had to take care of myself.
However, there have been opportunities I have had to change the course of my life that I rejected in the name of “I have to finish my job as a father.” I had these two little boys who meant more to me than my own life. My success or failure as a human being would be measured by how I did in raising them. Nothing else mattered other than how I did with them.
My role was to teach them about life. How to live it. How to treat others. How to achieve. How to deal with success and failure. I was responsible for teaching them life lessons. Like this – no matter how much your former coaches may have wanted you playing goalie, your new coaches have never seen you play before and you have to prove yourself to them. Or, this. No matter how much you want to play soccer, wanting to doesn’t get you there, if you really want it, you actually have to work hard towards that goal.
What ended up happening along the way was that I began to care so much about everything and anything that I lost sight of a few basic truths. Now that my boys are reaching the age where they need me less and want me even less, where they are ready to spread their wings and leave the nest, to be the people they are meant to be, I realize it’s time to make an adjustment. I can no longer care quite the way I have over the last eighteen years.
A few years ago I acquired a friend. We would talk about other people in our lives and marvel at how they seemed to “float” through life without really seeming to care. We wished we could be the same way, but we felt bound by the idea that life was worth caring about. The good. The bad. The painful stuff, and the hard things. That to really live life meant that you have to experience it all and worry about it all and, well, actually talk and feel and think about everything. You know, be full of thoughts. But, not just thoughts, but emotions and effort, as well.
That’s how I believe I’ve lived my life for the past eighteen years. I’ve cared. Maybe too much. A few years ago, I wrote the following to my youngest. I no longer remember the exact reason, but based on the content, it was probably prompted by a moment when I got on him about something that I didn’t believe he was doing well enough.
Why do I care so much?
Because I have no choice. This is my one and only life. I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I don’t believe in an afterlife or reincarnation. This is my one life. My only shot. I have to get it right.
The longer I live the more I realize how valuable relationships are. Friends. Those who you care about and who care about you. That’s why I care about you.
Why do I care? Because this is my only life and I have to get it right. That means choosing to do things that mean something to me, choosing to spend my time with people who matter to me, and trying to do everything I do as best as I can. I, unfortunately, seek perfection. As a result, I can’t ever stop caring. If I stop caring, my quest ends and there’s no point in continuing.
I have yet to live a perfect day, a perfect week, or a perfect year. So, I keep caring. I keep trying. I keep moving forward in search of that perfect day. I actually hope I never reach it because, if I did, I’d have an excuse to stop caring. And, I don’t ever want to not care. It’s through caring that my life improves, that my relationships improve, who I am improves.
Every day I fail. I’m not the best father I could be. I’m not the best husband I could be. I’m not the best friend I could be. I’m not the best attorney I could be. I’m not the best person I could be. So, I keep caring. I keep trying.
It’s why I push my kids to choose things they enjoy and then to care enough about those things to be the very best they can at them. To not just go through the motions, and do the minimum, but to actually do those things the correct way. The right way. The best way.
Why do I care so much? Because I have no choice.
I wrote recently about how my youngest voluntarily, without prompting, joined me in helping a friend move. I asked him at one point that day why he did so. He told me it was because of what I wrote above. So, this is groundbreaking to me. If I were to ask such a question of my oldest, he would shrug his shoulders and mumble “because” or something like that. But, my youngest had a reason and tried to express it. He told me it had something to do with what I wrote about the importance of friends and that if helping this particular friend was important to me, he wanted be a part of it and help as well. Every time I think about this, I tear up just a bit, as I did when we were done helping my friend and his girlfriend and she gave him such an incredibly authentic thank you hug.
The problem is I realize how much I got wrong in what I wrote. This is the epiphany that has slowly grown in me over the last couple of months. It’s why the bear is waking up. It’s why …
A couple of co-workers started talking a few weeks ago about providing a mood wheel to hang on my door. As they described it, it would have pictures of Eeyore and nothing more. What another co-worker produced instead was a mood wheel that included Eeyore, Tigger, an M & M, and something else which escapes me at the moment. This week has been all about Tigger. Every day. Tigger and more Tigger.
Why? What was it that I figured out?
It goes back to something basic. The same friend with whom I puzzled over how people we know could take life so lightly, told me something critical a couple of months ago. As I’ve shared on this blog, I’ve been monumentally frustrated by my inability to kick my latest Pepsi habit. One day, my friend and I were talking about it and she said something that resonated with me, something along the lines of “stop beating yourself up over the fact that you drink Pepsi every day. You’re making yourself feel worse because you can’t do it than what the Pepsi is actually doing to you.” Or something like that.
I began to evolve that day. Yes, I was kicking myself in the ass every single day for something that just shouldn’t have been that big of a deal.
Other things came along the way. Reading Mindfulness Yoga and its description of meditation, opened my mind to something else. The author describes why so many people “fail” at meditation and explains how to succeed instead. Basically, anybody who tries to meditate, will grow frustrated by the thoughts and sounds that creep in and believe they have “failed.” What the author explained was that, as you sit there, in the quiet, focusing on your breathing and clearing your mind, if a thought creeps in, look at it, consider it, recognize for what it is, and then … let it go. Same thing, if a sound from outside pierces your meditative state, consider it, recognize and … let it go. There’s no sense in getting frustrated or angry about what has crept in.
Although I’ve only meditated a few times since reading about the above, it’s a concept I’ve taken to heart. I want to continue caring as much as I described to my son, but I no longer want to, in the process of caring, allow the things that don’t go my way control me through the frustration and anger that results. Instead, what I need to do, what I’m working on doing, what I am doing right now, is acknowledging the interruptions, recognizing them for what they are, and … I’m trying to let go. I’m trying to accept more and resist less. This doesn’t mean that I have accepted, or will accept, the inevitability of things in my life. Instead, it means that, in this very moment, I can’t get frustrated, I can’t care so much that I become incapacitated while also continuing to move forward on my life’s path.
Over the years, I’ve had a number of conversations with friends about the cycle of emotions I live in. There are the high times, the “in the middle” times, and there are those days, weeks and months when I feel like I’m buried at the bottom. I realized today that every time I have that conversation I’m at the bottom of the emotional cycle. I never talk about being at the top of the cycle. I want to talk about being at the top now. I want to stop wallowing. I want to stop feeling the pain and enjoy the good.
I wrote at the beginning of the year that my word for 2013 would be consistency. Here’s my further statement regarding that. My objective is that my cycle ends. That I spend each day thinking about something that is good in my life. That I embrace those things and, while I will still care about everything just as I always have, I will no longer focus on the failings, but instead focus on the successes. This week is not the only week that will be entirely about being Tigger. This year and the years that follow will be about being Tigger every moment I can, in a caring, loving, embracing way.
Time To Wake Up
December 28, 2012Posted by on
It’s been an interesting few weeks. Or I should say an incredibly un-interesting few weeks. As I have described to several friends, I feel like I’m hibernating. Things are slowing down, I’m conserving energy. I sleep a lot when I have the chance. There are lots of reasons for this. (pssst, it’s called depression, but don’t tell anybody, and, please don’t worry, I’ll be fine). I haven’t written anything for a couple of weeks. Fiction, that is. Even more significantly, I haven’t really even thought about it. That part of my brain has shut down lately. No longer frustrated by the lack of time I have to write, I have apparently accepted it, at least for the time being.
It’s actually one of the things I set out to do a few weeks ago. I read parts of Mindfulness Yoga, (confession time: the initial version of this post referred to this as Mindless Yoga) at least through the portion that describes meditation. And started to meditate. I don’t do it every day. In fact, it’s been more than a week since I sat on the floor and assumed the position. But, what I have done almost every day is found a moment or two here and there to “meditate” in my own way. Slowing down, breathing, focusing inside rather than thinking about outside.
That first day I sat and tried to meditate, I focused on this one thought. Letting go. It’s what I’m trying to do even when I’m not meditating. Letting go. The frustrations that have piled up blocking my view of the rest of my life. I’m trying to let go of them. One of those is what I wish I could do with respect to writing. I simply don’t have the time, energy, or opportunity to write as much as I would like. So, I need to slow down. And accept it. There are other things I need to let go of as well. There are changes to be made.
I’m hibernating. Conserving energy. I’ve started thinking lately about changes to come. Some of those changes will be felt around here. I started this blog about a year and a half ago, blogging intermittently until a year ago, when I decided to do the loony and commit to blogging every day. Hell, if Andrew Sullivan can do it, why can’t I? He has a staff who helps, you say. Pshaw!! I fulfilled my commitment for more than six months before realizing it was, well, loony.
In the days ahead, I’m going to be dividing my blogging between three blogs:
http://www.markpaxson.com — my blog about writing. I created it earlier this year when I decided to start the self-publishing venture. I should establish a website with my name on it for people to find me. And, then I didn’t do much with it. So, for 2013, any thoughts I have about writing, publishing, and all that will be found at markpaxson.com. Any time I post there, I’ll probably link to it here, but, who knows. In the crush of time, I tend to forget things like that.
kingmidgetramblings.wordpress.com — this, my first blog that finally took off, will be for just about everything else. Thoughts. Politics. Interesting tidbits. Pictures of food. Songs that move me. Moments of time found through the lens of my camera. Whatever comes to mind about life.
And, well, that other blog that I told you all about a few months ago. The one about turning the page. Hope you remember it, because I won’t repeat it here. All I’ll say is this … there are a lot of other changes ahead and I may end up chronicling them there.
I set out in 2012 to do a lot of things. I believe part of the reason hibernating now (isn’t that a much better way to describe it?) is recognizing I couldn’t get it all done. I achieved a lot, but not all of it. I’m now trying to figure out how to address where I missed it and how to re-adjust my goals. I self-published three books, barely selling enough to cover my costs, which were minimal. The fourth book I intended on publishing still awaits its fate. I’m not going to throw it out there like the other three and “just see what happens.” I need to figure out a better way to do it. As I’ve indicated, I’m submitting that book to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 contest and see what happens. If that fails, I’m going to look for an agent or publisher for it.
I also will continue working, as the mood strikes me, on the other novels I’m working on. The Irrepairable Past is a story that means something to me and, I think, it has incredible potential. I believe I’ve got it right so far and I don’t want to screw it up. I’ll keep taking my time with it and see what happens over the next few months. To the extent I work on existing projects, that will be my focus, but it has to happen at its own pace.
2013 awaits. This is not about making resolutions. It’s not about identifying goals and achieving anything in particular. Instead, it’s about this. I’m still hibernating. In my slumber, I’m thinking about what I need to do in the year ahead. About what I want to do in the year ahead. About how I can end 2013 better than I started it. It’s about figuring out ways to tame the demons and find happiness and contentment.
Day #4: Celebrate Me
December 4, 2012Posted by on
From I Saw You Dancing:
How are you going to celebrate your self this festive season?
Well, here’s a tough one. Being harder on myself than anybody else, being constantly self-analytical — well, it’s difficult to conclude that I deserve to celebrate myself. I could be a better father, a better partner, a better boss, a better employee. I could always be a better human being. And, given that, what is there to celebrate?
Ah, this is just a bad topic for me today. Very contemplative. More so than usual. More blah. More so than usual. Celebrate myself? What’s to celebrate? As I wrote to a friend today … I’ve spent a lot of energy today thinking about the regrets that fill my life.
Here’s what I’ll do … I’m going to try to find a day some time in the next month where I’m going to do everything I possibly can to shut my brain off. Find a place to go and do … what? I don’t know.
Who am I kidding? Shut my brain down? Turn off all the endless thoughts that fill every nook and cranny? Yeah, right. Here’s what I need to do. Here’s how I’m going to celebrate myself.
Find every opportunity I can to spend time with the people I enjoy the most, delving into their innermost secrets and desires. Laughing and living. Being instead of becoming.
There will be a day this month when I find a river or an ocean beach. (Strong preference for the beach.) There, I’ll be by myself for a bit … walking and pondering. Maybe just maybe, I’ll celebrate myself by considering the positives that have come from the things I regret. Because you know what, every regret has a good that came with it. Here’s one …
I regret that I lived a childhood filled with fear. The other boys got together and played tackle football every fall for years. I refrained because of my fear of getting hurt. All I could see when I envisioned playing tackle football was my body lying at the bottom of a heap of boys with broken bones protruding from my body. I regret all the fun I missed as a child because of my fears. I feared roller coasters and never rode them until…
Well, here’s the positive of this regret. Went to Disneyland this summer and for the first time ever went on just about every roller coaster there and had such incredible fun. Best time ever! So, the positive? Maybe, it’s this … saving some of those things for later and then overcoming the fears and experiencing something you’ve resisted for years, decades, well, it makes it all the more sweeter.
Another way I’ll celebrate myself this holiday season … overcome a fear and experience something I’ve never experienced before. Got any ideas?
Best I can do with this prompt.