Saturday, April 29, 2006

Dear Mom and Dad; An Open Letter of Apology

My mother was fond of saying, often in moments of exasperation, “wait ‘till you have kids of your own.” She was not wishing me any ill will. I am quite sure she didn’t mean, “I hope your kids treat you the same way you’re treating me.” I’m sure of it. It is only in retrospect, however, that I can even begin to feel her pain. I have kids of my own. They are good kids. They are a challenge. They have not even come close to the challenge that my siblings and I presented my parents. Different issues to be sure, but if only measuring magnitude, they’re miles apart.

Having said all that, my 18 year-old son is presenting me with challenges. I can hear my mom saying… It’s not the same though. Oh sure, the timing could not have been worse. When this most recent “emergency” popped up, I was in the middle of writing a term paper at the Sac State library when the phone call came. I was on a roll and quite likely would have completed it in the next two or three hours. It’s not done yet – the library is open tomorrow and the paper is due on Monday morning. Barring any more emergencies, it will be done. That solves one issue – the easy one – for my son, however, there are no easy answers.

His life is stagnant and he is going nowhere. It’s not that he is doing “bad” things; he’s doing nothing. It’s affecting his self-esteem and now his attitude. He’s pissed off much of the time and guess whose fault it is? He is starting to act out in ways that I cannot condone and currently we are at an impasse that could very well leave him homeless. It has come to a point where I want to help him – indeed, to make up for my past indiscretions… the poor decisions I made in my life that directly affected him. Unfortunately I can’t do some things for him, no matter how much I want to.

I am left with a choice that is the last thing I can do to help him but will not be viewed by him in the short term, if ever as anything more than his dad just messing his life up more. We’ll see what happens… all I know right now is that the “wait and see what happens” strategy I’ve been using is showing signs of wear. I had hoped he would get bored and do something. It is obviously not working and once again I am left with the conclusion that I can’t do it for him. Here is the humbling part: As bad as things are between my son and me, it hardly measures on the scale compared to the severity and length of the problems my own parents faced with me.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I am once again presented with an opportunity to reflect on my past and how it affected those whom I love and love me. I cannot even begin to express how sorry I am for my part of the chaos I caused in your lives. I am only getting to experience a mere pittance of what I put you through an honestly – I don’t know how you did it. I know I can’t just say “sorry” and make it all go away, but hopefully knowing that I acknowledge my part of the chaos and that, ultimately, your efforts were not in vain is of some value to you. I am truly sorry. As far as Timmy is concerned, don’t worry too much. It’s going to be OK. He has to walk his path and find his way just as I did mine. He’s a good boy.

Love,

Mike

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The 'Ayes" Have It

Respectfully stolen from Kate, who stole it from Magpie, who stole it from Ms Mac.

I AM: an aspiring writer.
I WANT: to make a difference.
I WISH: that tolerance was the norm.
I HATE: that I waited so long.
I MISS: my childhood.
I FEAR: that I am not understood.
I HEAR: too much and not enough.
I WONDER: if the people of the world will ever get along.
I REGRET: hurting those who love me.
I AM NOT: a bad person (and neither are you).
I DANCE: very rarely.
I SING: ...define singing. ;-')
I CRY: almost never. ;-'(
I AM NOT ALWAYS: thoughtful.
I MAKE: mistakes.
I WRITE: the truth, always.
I CONFUSE: myself.
I NEED: to finish school and get a job.
I SHOULD: be ok.
I START: over again often.
I FINISH: when I die.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Just Another Feel Good, Glass Half-Full, Happy, Go Lucky, Positive, It's a Great Day To Be Alive, Smilin' To Myself, Upbeat Post

Dear readers, friends, family, passerby, lurkers, stalkers, wanderers, seekers of knowledge, holders of truth and countrymen – and anyone else who happened to stumble upon this page –

I write today from the California State University, Sacramento library on a glorious spring day. I am not actually in the library proper, but in the open-air breezeway that is at the entrance to this monolith of the collected knowledge of mankind. A brand-spankin’ new Java City just opened here and the sitting area they added to the breezeway is where you’ll find your intrepid wordsmith this fine afternoon. The temperature is expected to reach 80 degrees today, but at just past midday, it’s an¨ ├╝ber-pleasant 70 degrees or so.

It has been brought to my attention that I have not posted anything new in several days. Although I knew this to be true, I didn’t think anyone really noticed. Not believing that my words are anticipated or even missed is perhaps partially responsible for my lack of motivation. It is an irrational thought and an attitude that has not pervaded my psyche in a very long time, but like a weed, it was inevitable that it would pop up again somewhere sometime.

That is not the whole story. Like anything in life, a multitude of factors, both interrelated and completely isolated, come into play to deliver me at any one particular moment. Other obvious considerations include; the winding up of another semester with all the attendant pressure associated with it; the changing of the seasons with the gloom of an over-extended winter finally coming to an end; the 33 day (and still counting) absence of my long-time companion and confidant, nicotine; and oddly enough, a strange sort of complacency with success. Those old familiar feelings of not enough and not fast enough have made slight inroads. Perhaps there is a chink in my armor.

The most effective weapon in my arsenal against self-destruction is self-awareness and the most efficient path to it lately has been these very words. Writing, specifically blogging, has been my salvation… my ace-in-the-hole. It has been working to change my perspective in the recent past and, viewed in retrospect, it always has. It is doing its thing right now as my fingers dance off the keys of my iBook. It’s almost as if I am a concert pianist, the flow I feel when my words come spilling out through this conduit. (Interestingly enough, I have very few typos when in this mode).

Just as curious, it is when I become somewhat “down” that my desire to explore diminishes. It’s almost as if I don’t want to know why. Hold on: I need to be perfectly clear here. I was not exactly depressed or even all that “down,” but I was, however, heading in that direction. This time, at least, I have been able to stop the progression dead in its tracks. This is a new revelation for me, for real. I just now discovered - again (I know… I not too bright sometimes!) how important the daily maintenance of staying connected is.

My MO has always been “to go there.” I mean, I get immersed in and wallow in the self-pitying, poor-me, nobody understands and (my personal favorite) “you don’t care about me, so why should I?”... Oh, yes – I go there! But for the last almost two years it has not been so and the results are obvious – just read my archives. The question was and still remains – why? I am understanding the “how” part more and more everyday – I know what has been working and more importantly I know how to figure out what works for me today. Knowing and doing, however, are not the same thing.

Though my hiatus had a duration of only four days, it has been four days (actually, a little longer) in which I have not been my usual positive self. I have been just a little “off.” That is not to say that I have been “negative,” but rather coasting – not applying much enthusiasm – consciously or perhaps subconsciously choosing to be reactive rather than responsive… indeed, at the edge and looking down. The down escalator analogy applies for me; if I stop moving forward, I’m moving backwards. It’s got everything to do with attitude and perspective. Mine just needed some minor tweaking; it wasn’t in need of a complete overhaul…

This time. I had not slid very far back on that escalator. I was still, out of habit more than anything else, doing the “things” that needed doing. My schoolwork, my housework and other regularly scheduled external activities that have to take place on a recurring basis got done, but it was mechanical, almost robotic. I was just going through the motions and not really connected to what I was doing. I was in fact heading towards corrective action and thankfully, because it occurred relatively sooner than later, that action was of my choosing.

Now re-aligned and in synch with the powers that be, the synergy present is undeniable; it’s palpable, it’s thick and it’s deep. Ready or not, here I come…

Saturday, April 22, 2006

30 Days

I have been smoke-free now for 30 days. This ties the second longest period of abstinence in the last year and a half or two years. The record is one day short of two months, so I'm just over half-way there. Since about the two-week mark, it has been a much easier journey than the first two weeks. Actually I prolonged that initial discomfort for about one week because I smoked four cigarettes at the end of what would have been the first week. If I had not become sick long enough (36 hours) to make me re-commit to not smoking, I would still be smoking today.

It is odd that for the last two or three days, I have been feeling as though I may have acted somewhat rashly – that perhaps I was a bit too hasty in deciding to quit. Maybe, I am thinking, I just needed a little break and now that I have proven to myself and the world that nicotine doesn’t have a hold of me, I can smoke just one if I want to. Or maybe, I should just quit fighting the urge to smoke and just concede that I am a smoker and accept whatever the consequences may be. After all, I can stop if I really want to, didn’t I just prove that?

Right! Perhaps I should have prefaced all those justifications with “And now, a few words from our sponsor…” One is too many. How easily I forget. I know I can’t stop anytime I want, I have proven it over and over again. I have what I consider to be a pretty good run of non-smoking going on. I sure don’t want to have to do it all over again. It is crucial that I don’t get complacent and underestimate the power of nicotine. I have to remember what it was like at the end and not the “good times.” That almost sounds crazy now that I read it: “Yes, the good old days… lighting up a smoke and letting the good times roll!” It sounds like a cheesy Winston advertisement.

It isn’t logical. If it were, nobody would smoke. Nicotine may be the most addictive substance known to man - more so than any of the illegal street drugs. All I can do is take it one day at a time. So far, I am working on the 31st day in a row and I am glad that the nicotine did not talk me into giving up today. It will try again tomorrow, but I am re-energized for battle now, it won’t even come close. It is, however, very patient. It will wait for an opportunity. My job? To make sure that opportunity doesn’t come knocking.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Smell the Roses

It’s 5:28 a.m., Tuesday morning. This is a little early for me, especially considering that I’ve been awake for about 45 minutes and just now decided that I am “up;” my day has begun. It’s time to put on some coffee (no cigarette – it’s been over three weeks without one now!) and get down to the business of the day. It’ll top 70 degrees today and there is no rain forecasted for a few days at least – I have a feature story due in a week, two research papers due in two weeks and finals coming up directly after that. Life is good! Oh yea, I’ve got to get the Harley tuned up too.

Life, my life at least, has this ebb and flow to it. It always has. It certainly isn’t the rollercoaster it once was. It used to be more like a cycle of boom and bust. That things are about to get somewhat hectic for me is better viewed through the filter of the past – my past. Everything is relative and compared to the way things were once upon a time, this is a far more manageable “busy season” than I am accustomed to. And although putting this all into perspective helps immeasurably, that is only part of the story.

Despite the fact that I’ll be extremely busy for the next month or so, it is not haphazardly so. This is all planned; it has been, in detail, since January and generally well before that. I signed up for this, there are no major surprises. Sure, the unexpected has occurred in the recent past and I suspect it will rear its head again, but I have the major stuff squared away. Although there is much in front of me, I have positioned myself to be successful. This is not rocket science – it is really quite simple.

All the same, in a way this “seasonal rush” if you will, caught me a little by surprise. Not off-guard, but in a strange way it kind of snuck up on me. A key change in my everyday life is that I live it as an “everyday” life. That is, I take one day at a time, deal with what is directly in front of me and worry about tomorrow tomorrow. The obvious question is “how is it that I am so ready, so prepared for this next month if I haven’t been worrying about it?” That’s an excellent question and one that deserves an excellent answer. Here goes…

As I stated, the upcoming 30 days or so will be busy. In fact, if I had to do it all today, or tomorrow or even within the next week, it would be overwhelming. I would throw up my hands and say “f*** it!” So how is it that I can live a day at a time and be in sync with a busy month? Easy. Although I have made plans and I obviously have goals, the path to attaining them is just that – a path. I’ll not realize them in one giant step or leap. Indeed, instant gratification only lasts an instant and if I want lasting satisfaction, time is among the primary ingredients to a successful recipe.

Therefore, today I will not do all those things that I have to do in the next four weeks. I can’t. I can, however, call contacts, do research, write… and go to class. In other words, I have a list of things to do today that will bring me to tomorrow. In addition, the things I have on my “to do” list are not just a means to an end – graduation and a degree – but an end in and of themselves. That way I get to have my cake and eat it too. My tasks today are not merely a chore to get the brass ring; they pay dividends all day long. Perhaps this is not instant gratification, but it surely must be at least incremental gratification!

In the final analysis, it is not only possible, but preferable (and for me, required) to have long-term goals and a view of life that revolves around 24 hour segments. If I have my sights set on the end, I tend to be so single minded that I’ll miss all there is along the way. I will not take time to “stop and smell the roses.” Taking life a day at a time gives me the short-term payoff while working toward a long-term goal and a perspective that allows me get excited about every step of the journey. And isn’t that what makes it all worthwhile?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Was I Talking To You?

Yesterday, while at a meeting of friends and acquaintances that I attend weekly, a friend greeted me with a cordial “happy Easter!” I replied in kind, in much the same way I would wish someone a “merry Christmas.” He then proceeded to enquire how my day was. I responded with “just another Sunday…” My friend, knowing what my religious beliefs (or lack thereof) are, just gave me an understanding smile, knowing that in my world, "just another Sunday" is a pretty darned good day. However, someone else standing in the general vicinity took this as an opportunity to educate me. He said something like this: “This is Easter, the day our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was resurrected…” There was more and I am paraphrasing… he used the terminology and vernacular that was probably directly quoted from the Bible.

I was not speaking with this gentleman, nor did I know him. Although this group meets in a church, it is not a religious organization by any stretch of the imagination. Those who know me will not be shocked by my response and to those who don’t - I absolutely mean no offense. I said: “That’s what I heard too,” which is of course, true. And I heard it again from him. I continued with, “and it might even be true.” That shut him up.

The facetiousness was intentional, not incidental. That does not, however, take away from the truth of my statements. I get what yesterday meant to this guy. I get what Easter means to Christians in general; I didn’t used to, but I am considerably more open-minded than I used to be. I can understand how a deep belief in something can make it true – for you. What many (certainly not all or even most) Christians don’t get is how in the world Easter and Christmas and the countless other Christian holy days don’t mean anything special to those who do not subscribe to their beliefs.

Furthermore (you knew there had to be a furthermore!), I did not ask what Easter meant. I guess this advocate of Christianity heard in my “just another Sunday” response a cry for help, for understanding - or perhaps I wanted to be saved? Needless to say, not so. Here’s the deal… this is what Easter meant (past tense) to me: When I was a kid, it was about the Easter Bunny, coloring eggs and finding them on Easter morning. When I had young kids, it was about coloring Easter Eggs, the Easter Bunny and hiding the eggs early on Easter morning. Now, it’s just another Sunday. I expect that when I have grandchildren, the ritual will start all over again and I’m fine with that.

The best quality about my spiritual beliefs is that they are unique. I don’t think I could explain it even if I wanted to and I never even try unless asked. That means I am not trying to solicit or recruit followers nor am I promoting my beliefs. Although they work for me, I have no way of knowing if they’ll work for anyone else, but I am happy to try to explain if asked. By the same token, if I ask someone else, then I am listening – genuinely and without any facetious comments. I am not close-minded, I have asked… and listened. However, if you hear me talking to a friend and I happen to mention Easter and I “get it wrong,” please don’t try to educate me, I may be tempted to say something very unspiritual - and neither of us wants that.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Memory Lane

I guess I had unrealistic expectations. Actually, that’s not exactly true; my expectations were right on the money. I knew I would see what I saw – no big surprises there. And I know that things change, often times for the better. They call it progress… I suppose that depends on one’s point of view. All the same, for some reason, this time I really miss the way things were.

I don’t have any but the sketchiest of memories of my first two homes. When I was only about three or four, my parents bought the home they still live in today. My youth was spent entirely in this sleepy little Santa Clara Valley hamlet. Known for its acres and acres of fruit orchards - cherries, plumbs, peaches - this part of the valley was mostly consisted of apricot orchards. Everyone's yard had three or four trees. However, by the time I had graduated high school in 1981, the valley was known by a much different name: Silicon Valley.

Los Altos has always been a middle-class suburb. Full disclosure? Ok, a white middle-class suburb. I’m not sure how it is that I did not grow up to be racist… credit my parents, the social atmosphere of living through the height of the civil rights movement or maybe it was an associative effect of being so close to Stanford University. We were also within a short drive of the likes of Berkeley, San Francisco or the city next-door and home of Stanford - Palo Alto, where technology, not race, reigned supreme. It was (and still is, I guess) what was referred to as “a bedroom community,” whatever that means.

This was a safe place to raise kids. I think it probably still is, but you won’t see the kids experiencing the same mobility I did in my youth. There was a time when kids of all ages were everywhere, usually riding their bikes. My elementary school (which is still there) is two long suburbian blocks away, probably about half a mile. By the time I was in first grade – just a boy of five going on six – I was riding my Sears Free-Spirit one speed bike to and from school by myself. Ok, not exactly by myself, there were a few other kids making the same trek. That just doesn’t happen today.

Money changes things. More of it inflates and less of it deflates. Los Altos has inflated. Granted, this was no skid row when I was a kid; it was a town of working professionals. Most of the moms stayed at home (we called them “housewives” then - nobody seemed to mind) and the dads worked hard and often long hours – not so much with their brawn, but with their college educated brains. It was very Beaver Cleaver around here and it is only in retrospect that I can say I really liked it. I couldn’t have asked for a more idyllic childhood – comfortable, but not pretentious.

All that is gone now. Is it better or worse? I don’t know. It’s a very different place than where I grew up. Houses – check that – one-quarter acre pieces of land… never mind the house, are selling for over one million dollars today. To put that into context, my parents bought their home forty years ago for well under one hundred thousand dollars - well under! There are some long-time residents that quite literally couldn’t afford to buy their own home. This whole town is out of reach for all but the rich and their kids. Kids who are well beyond comfortable. Kids who don’t need to ride their bikes to school.

The vast majority of the people living here today have no idea what it used to be like. On my parent’s street, there are only two of three that lived here when we moved here. Most of the houses have been extensively remodeled (including theirs) and some have been purchased just so they could be leveled and built anew. The freedoms this town offers to the kids who reside here are largely being ignored. It is every bit as safe as it was when I was a kid, yet money affords parents the luxury of not having to take as many risks, so they don’t.

The technology boom started about the same time I did. We grew up together – sharing the same yard. It made a lot of people rich while leaving many others behind. Of those I graduated high school with, many cannot afford to live in the town they hail from – I can’t. My parents worked hard and got some luck; they were able to retire without having to cash in their home. Consequently, I am fortunate that I can come back and visit, as I am this weekend. It is not, however, always easy to witness “progress.”

In the summer time, right around the Forth of July, all the apricots get ripe at the same time. They used to be all part of the same orchard. Like clockwork, the moms would all get together and harvest them, halve and pit them and lay them out on huge drying boards. They would then load them into their station wagons (remember??) and drive down the El Camino Real to C.J. Olsen’s orchard in Sunnyvale to be prepped and dried. When the 'cots came back, everyone would have dried apricots, as well as jams, jellies and preserves until well into the next year.

Today, those trees are all gone.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Little A to Z About Me

I haven’t responded to the few “tags” I have received nor do I intend to. However, many of the authors of the blogs I regularly read do. The reason I don’t respond is that it “feels” like a questionnaire and as such, is just a wee bit too mechanical for me to get excited about. No excitement equals no motivation, no motivation equals no writing – for me. This is by no means a judgment on those who do respond and enjoy them, and I do read the responses of others from time to time.

Having said all that – while cruising (or stalking) my regular blogs, I ran across a tag on Sadie Lou’s blog that I found amusing and interesting. Although she did not tag me, she did invite any who felt so inclined to join in. My interest peaked; excitement led to motivation and the writing follows:

Accent: We don’t have an accent in California, ask anyone.

Booze: Not for a long time. Zero, nada, zilch.

Chore I hate.: Cleaning my office. It usually isn’t until I can’t find anything!

Dogs/Cats: Not now. Had a dog. *&%#% HOA!

Essential electronics: iBook, Blackberry. That’s it.

Favorite perfume: Not a clue.

Gold or Silver: Only silver

Hometown: Small town in the Santa Clara (silicon) Valley.

Insomnia: Not unless there is something on my mind.

Job title: Journalism student, aspiring writer.

Kids: Three. Anthony – 22, Timothy – 18 & Matthew – 16.

Living arrangement: Ranch-style house, 3/2.5, pool, 2 car garage, ^&%#@ HOA.

Most admired trait: I can’t answer that. Ask my Mom.

Number of Sexual Partners: Not sure... is that a bad thing?

Overnight hospital stays: Four. Three months, ten days, three days and five days.

Phobia: Heights kinda freak me a little.

Q: Hey, there's no "Q!"

Religion: If I have one, I’m the only worshipper. I’m a flock of one!

Siblings: A sister and a brother – both younger.

Time I wake up: Between six and eight in the morning, depending on what day it is.

Unusual talent: Any talent I have is unusual!

Vegetable I refuse to eat: Brussels sprouts.

Worst Habit: Staying up too late - like tonight.

X-rays: Literally hundreds.

Yummy foods I make: Banana bread and chicken fried rice. Barbeque anything.

Zodiac: Sagittarius.


That was fun. I’ll extend the same invitation Sadie Lou did: Anyone who would like to participate please do so.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

2500 Hits

On January 17th, 2006 I installed a hit counter. I use Site Meter, but there are several that offer free versions of their software to track various aspects of the traffic to a site. Why Site Meter? One of the blogs I read regularly (I don’t remember which one) uses it and clicking on the counter linked me to their site. I liked it enough to pay the fifty or so bucks for the upgraded one-year service. It's pretty cool; it provides a wealth of interesting but largely useless information.

I bring all this up because, in all likelihood, I’ll hit 2,500 visits tomorrow. This is just about one week shy of my blog’s four-month anniversary (has it been that long?!) and almost three months since installing the counter. So what does all this mean? I’m not quite sure. I should qualify this number by saying that a lot of these visits are “drive-bys.” They probably didn’t read anything and spent little or no time on my site. Many others are regular readers. They account for a visit each time they stop by and some of my readers stop by daily (thank you).

Additionally, for the first two or three weeks after installing the counter, every one of my own visits was counted – and there were a lot of them. I did not know that I could ignore them until I had explored all that Site Meter was capable of. Like blogging itself, there was a learning curve involved. One that would have progressed much more rapidly had I read the instructions. Yeah, yeah, I know! Having said all this, what does it all mean?

First and foremost, this is primarily a curiosity for me. Primarily, but not exclusively. Although I find the stats interesting and I like to see where my visitors hail from, there is a lingering question; a motive checker that I can’t totally shake. What if nobody stopped on my blog? Let’s be real: I don’t do this just to get it out of our head. I write to be read, and I want evidence. To that end, Site Meter is working for me.

Before installing the hit counter, the only way I knew anyone ever read my stuff was from the comments left. It took a little time before I realized that anyone knew I even existed, but I was not all that concerned. As I stated in my first couple of posts, this blog was a vehicle to keep myself writing in between semesters at Sac State. When I received my first comment (actually it was the second, the first was from some whacko), I was absolutely thrilled. I started to read and comment on other blogs via the links in the comments/profiles/blogs/comments and so on.

Back in February, my friend Barbara ran a poll on her blog asking what meant more, comments or stats. Although it is a decidedly unscientific poll, the results are still telling: Most respondents put more weight on comments than hit stats. One of those votes was my own. I figure that if I have moved you enough that you took the time to respond, then I have done more than simply entertain or inform.

As I learned more and more about blogs and blogging, I learned about things I was not necessarily interested in, such as promoting my blog. This is a key point… I don’t know how I rate in regards to hits on other blogs. I assume that I get more hits than some and less than others – I don’t care. There is no relative importance. That I have a few readers - regular readers - is good enough. It is also should not go unsaid that - based on their own blogs and their comments left on mine - they are readers whose opinions I respect.

In a way, this is my practice field – a proving-grounds as it were. Those who read me regularly know that my ultimate goal is to write professionally in some capacity. Blogging and posting for anyone to read and comment on is like practicing using live ammo. It’s out there, it’s public and it’s real. Additionally, in my case, it’s completely attributable – my profile reveals my real name. There is no anonymity here.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Inconvenient Inspiration

It may be because I drank too much coffee earlier in the evening. It’s 1:10 a.m. Monday morning and my mind just won’t shut off. I may be a little hasty in blaming the caffeine for I have in the past and on countless occasions experienced this very same phenomenon without any stimulants present. Tonight, it could be the synergy of creative overload and artificial stimulation. I have no way of knowing.

After futilely trying to sleep for the past hour, I decided to grab my iBook from my home office and bring it to bed with me. My plan is to write something. It is not my intention to write what I what I’ve been thinking about – I simply do not have the time… I need some sleep. The plan is simple enough: If I can find an outlet for some of this mental energy, perhaps my head will be able to relax enough to sleep.

About a year and a half ago, I started to assemble what would someday become a book. It started out as kind of a memoir/self-help/inspirational/life-experience/autobiography. It is perhaps 25 – 35 percent done and will probably stay that way. I don’t think I’ll finish it. Not that book anyway. It is evolving into a much more sharply defined autobiography – the elements of which have been spinning in my head. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it memoir even though the genres of autobiography and its sub-genre, memoir, are almost interchangeable. But I digress…

The point of all this is that I never know when or where or, for that matter, why inspiration is going to hit me. I keep a notebook in my nightstand next to my bed to document these flashes of brilliance so I don’t forget them. A good idea, but I’ve only used it once and I don’t even remember what I wrote. It’s still there, a mere 18 inches from me right now! No, I’m not going to look at it – perhaps another day. (I have a bunch of hand-written material that I really should look at, but it’s not important right now).

All I want to do is get some sleep. I know from experience that my day will go much smoother if I can grab at least four hours – six would be better. I have a relatively busy day tomorrow. What I would have written had I decided to sacrifice the sleep and delve into it could have been anywhere from the book’s forward or introduction all the way to the middle and beginning. Yes, it’s going to start in the middle. That’s important, it very well may have been the one factor I needed to remember – now maybe I can get some sleep.

Good night.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Serenity

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer. Anyone who has had any involvement in any 12-step recovery program from Gamblers Anonymous to the grand daddy of them all – Alcoholics Anonymous knows these 27 words well. Hold on… Let’s call it 26 words. I’ll invite agnostics (like myself) and atheists along and leave out the word “God.” It doesn’t lessen or invalidate these simple words in the least. Besides, any God that I can embrace would not have an ego that demands such homage.

The origin of this prayer is in some question, although it would be a stretch to call it a controversy. There is some evidence that it may be very old indeed. As far as modern history and its adoption by AA and others is concerned, it can be traced back to an obituary appearing in the New York Times around 1939. It was brought to the attention of Bill W., co-founded of AA, who thought it embodied what AA was all about. The rest, as they say, is history.

But why are these 26 simple words so powerful? I don’t believe for one minute it’s the first word – the one I omitted. Is it in their sheer simplicity? Perhaps they embody the essence of what life is all about. It’s the concentrate; the extract; the precipitate – it’s what it all boils down to. These words quite possibly represent the lowest common denominator. Serenity, acceptance, courage and ultimately… wisdom; this is life in a nutshell.

Although this prayer comes off as a request – grant me – to me it is more of a mandate. They are words to live by. Directions, as it were. They set up a cause and effect; it presents a conditional statement – an “if/then,” if you will. If I can accept the things I cannot change, demonstrate the courage to change the things I can and practice the wisdom to know the difference, then I’ll have serenity. Peace. I’ll know peace.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Zone

There have been some things in my life that I have been particularly passionate about. They were usually (but not always) activities that I possessed some aptitude for. I had, for whatever reason, a natural talent and certain skills and was drawn to the crafts that best utilized them. When everything was clicking, I could do no wrong – I was in “the zone.” It was not a very wide zone, however, as more often than not, as soon as I realized I was in it, I was out.

Sometimes the skills needed were acquired due to a passion and other times the skills were present and the passion was driven from being good at something. I am quite sure that at many other periods there was simply a lack of synchronicity; the passion did not develop the skill or the talent remained hidden until the moment was gone. It was a phenomenon I unwittingly summed up in a phrase I used repeatedly… “I guess I just missed my calling.”

As in, it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t know. The timing just wasn’t right. I didn’t receive the exposure, the encouragement, the support - the “fill in the blank here.” I was, apparently, cursed. Doomed to failure – I just couldn’t get it right. As a result, I never found that “perfect” job. I could not get motivated for any length of time. There was never any pot of gold, no green acres and no happily ever after. I was just doing time. Good enough turned into never enough – I could not find satisfaction and there was no peace.

Today and for quite a little time now, this has not been the case. I am quite sure this didn’t turn around overnight, but the realizations that things are not the same come to me in waves. I’ll be doing something, anything… sometimes nothing at all and it’ll hit me: I’m in the zone! Furthermore, I have been here for a long time. The kicker? It’s not an accident, there is no happy coincident… it didn’t “just happen.” It has absolutely nothing to do with talent, skill, or anything externally manifested. It is entirely an inside job.

I have said it before and I’m saying it again: attitude is the key. There is nothing magical about it and it is not something that can be given or taken away. I have a “can do” attitude because I do do. I know I can get it done because I get it done. I know the facts because I studied them. I am in a place right now that it matters little what I am doing, I give it my all because anything less only short-changes myself. If I’m going to do it, I’m all in.

I know that if I were flipping burgers, I’d be the best burger flipper around. I can “see” myself smiling and flipping them. The same goes for anything I set myself to do. I wouldn’t be doing it if I weren’t somehow driven. Be it financial need, to keep busy or just simply being of some kind of service, I would have my mind set in such a way that that “thing” I have set out to do would carry the same importance as everything I’m doing right now. I would not derive any satisfaction otherwise.

My life needs purpose. I was, however, confused about what it was, how it would be manifested and how to figure it out. As it turns out, none of that matters. My purpose is not predestined, it is not predefined – it does not have to find me. My destiny is up to me and I can get as excited about it as I choose. It is attitude dependant and attitude driven. My calling therefore, is not actually calling me. It is I that must do the calling.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

RAIN!

And it keeps coming and coming and coming and coming. California, specifically the Capital City, has been pounded with rain in record amounts. It is fortunate that it has not come all at once, for the delta region may well resemble certain parts of the gulf coast right now. However, the trade-off is a nearly constant outpouring of light to moderate rain. In March, Sacramento recorded a record 20 days of measurable rain. That means rain two out of every three days. Everything is wet all the time. Enough is enough!

I am typically not one to complain about inclement weather. Usually I revel in the power of Mother Nature. I get off on “bad” weather. Rain, wind, snow, cold… even heat waves do not really bother me. However, monotony does. This is getting old. It’s not even all that severe, just constant. It is exactly what I don’t like about the oh so predictable summers around here. It’s 95 to 105 degrees pretty much every day during the “dog days” of summer here. And I guess in March (and so far in April), it rains. And rains and rains and then it rains some more.

Those that can barely tolerate the rain under normal circumstances are the ones suffering the most. I still enjoy those certain elements of the rain that I always have – the cleansing quality, the freshness after a rain – the smell, the sound of the falling rain – it can be and often is enchanting. It slows everything down. Things are pretty slow around here. We’ve had enough. But, as long as it’s going to rain anyway, I’ll be taking advantage of the meditative quality of it – I have to study for a Constitutional Law midterm tomorrow morning. This is some of the best studying weather.

Does that mean the rain will stop afterwards? That would be a welcome change. The forcast calls for a break on Thursday and most of Friday followed by... you guessed it, more rain.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hangin' in There

8:00 a.m. PDT, Sunday morning. It’s been a brutal weekend so far. Not because of all the rain or because nothing has gone right… Quite the contrary, in one respect at least, all has gone extraordinarily well, but it hasn’t been easy. Since my last post late Friday night, I have been at war and so far winning battle after battle. There have been oh so many battles. I think my strength is growing. Today, I recommit myself to not smoking.

I have received nothing but positive feedback and encouragement since I publicly made my mission known. I deeply appreciate it and that support has helped more than I thought possible. Having said all that, however, this has been my toughest journey into smoke freedom yet. I don’t know why, but I am nowhere near taking this “a day at a time” yet. Sometimes, it’s all I can do to get through the moment.

Perhaps it’s because not smoking is so high on my conscious priority list. In the past when I was unsuccessful after a few days, weeks or months, the urge may have come over me while my guard was down… I was not vigilant to the degree I am today. But that very vigilance forces me to think of not smoking – and consequently – smoking, all the time. It’s a catch 22 that I guess I’ll have to live with for the time being. It seems to be working.

As hard as this has been so far, it obviously is not beyond my ability or my resources. Every tough day won gives me that much more confidence and strength that I can do it again today. Although I hesitate to say it, it is different this time. What that means only time will tell, but so far today, I’m still winning.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

No Butts

I quit smoking a couple of weeks ago. It’s not the first time; I hope it’s the last. Mark Twain said of smoking and quitting, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times.” It’s staying quit that has been my problem. And at two weeks, it is a constant battle – rationalizing away these two weeks and picking up a cigarette is like an internal tug-o-war with the little angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.

I have not enjoyed my “ritual smokes” for a very long time. Of course, it goes without saying how I feel about all the many smokes in between those ritual ones. Yet, after two weeks, a cigarette sure sounds good. And I’ll be honest here, I’m not too sure I’ll make it – again. If true, I also know that the first smoke will deliver everything promised by that little devil. I also know that the little angel is right too. It will lead to the point where I wish I didn’t smoke again and I won’t be able to quit.

Quitting, as Mr. Twain explains, is quite easy. Technically, I quit every time I snuff one out, unless I’m chain smoking (I don’t). However, for me there are periodic windows of opportunity. One key ingredient has to be a mental willingness – being so profoundly disgusted with smoking (again) to the point that I can say “no” for a period of time and stick with it. A couple of other things need to happen around the same time, but the willingness has to be there.

One is too many. If I decide to have “just one,” I know (and the little angel is nodding in agreement) that how ever much I mean it, it won’t happen. Experience tells me that within 24 hours I will have purchased a pack and be right back where I was before I quit. Knowing this is not, however, a sufficient defense. As the midnight hour approaches, it appears as though I’ll make it through another day. Tomorrow morning I’ll recommit and hope for the willingness and the strength to make it through another day/hour/minute.

I am, in some respects, past the most difficult part. The physical withdrawal symptoms are over and have been for about a week. My normal sleep pattern is returning and my moodiness is substantially less pronounced. I don’t need a cigarette to relieve any particular withdrawal symptom. Yet at the same time this is the most difficult part. It is the time where the habitual nature of smoking is trying to find an outlet… and there is none. I’ve been down this road before.

Over the years I, like Mark Twain, have quit on a number of occasions, lasting anywhere from a few days to two or three years. In the last 18 months, this is the fifth time – the longest period being almost two months. The shear number of attempts is encouraging but I feel that I am at a crossroads in that I need to make it work this time. I don’t - and the little angel will not abandon me if I pick up again.

So now it’s 12:08 a.m. PST, another day smoke-free. I’ll go to bed and tomorrow do it all over again.