Sunday, May 31, 2009

Re-post, September 2007

Life is Good

Sometimes I feel a little guilty. Not to the extent that I would allow it to ruin my day or even part of it, but I still face skepticism and that in turn fuels a little bit of guilt. I have this extremely positive outlook on life. It is a new outlook - a new perspective - and I would contend that I came by it the hard way, but it can be summed up in one word - positive. Some people either don’t believe it is real - for some reason I am making it up, or that I am somehow deluded - I only think that I am happy… or perhaps they are, to some degree, envious. I don’t know, but one of the many reasons I write about it is to share that it is possible - there is hope.

It seems that human nature drives us toward the negative. Indeed, Rush Limbaugh, of all people, makes a good point (he actually has made several if one can wade through the conservative rhetoric). There are no books on the market that give instruction on how to be miserable. Why? Because we already know how to do that. There are, however, literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of self-help books, guides to meditation and enlightenment, holistic paths to wellness and other well-meaning guides to inner peace. I have read a few and they all have some virtue.

But there were no magic words. There is no quick fix - and those who knew me not too long ago know that I was into finding the shortest path from A to C… just as long as it didn’t pass through B. The problem with instant gratification is that it only lasts for an instant. Then it’s back to reality and seeking that utopian sense of peace and harmony through some kind of osmosis. It has taken me many painful years to realize that there are many ways to get “there,” and that the path we take is what it’s all about… it’s always and forever the same “there.”

Someone once told me I can’t think my way into right living, I must live my way into right thinking. In other words, I can know as much as humanly possible, but until I put what I know into action, nothing changes. And if nothing changes, then nothing changes. Time takes time, and it comes in these convenient little 24-hour chunks. The progress I have experienced over the past five years of my life is unprecedented, yet not once was there a moment where I thought, “I’ll sure be glad when I get to…” I have been trying very hard to stay in the moment and now as I look back, I can see the progress - but that is not the reward.

The prize is realized every day. The peace I experience even through adversity is all I ever wanted. I just wanted to be happy - that’s all. I thought that would come when I got certain “things” in my life, yet I acquired a great many of those things and my inner peace was still just as random as a pinball. I thought it might be achieved through status, but again that was only window dressing and my happiness proved to be fleeting. It was not until I finally found acceptance and came to grips with living life as it comes that I was able to gain a new perspective on life.

It has not gone unnoticed by those close to me. Happiness begets happiness and I attract into my life those who are happy or are struggling to be happy. Recently my father sent me a T-shirt that he picked up while shopping at REI. He wasn’t shopping for me, but he ran across this T-shirt that he felt epitomized what my life resembles today. It is probably safe to say that it is an unarticulated value he had tried to instill in me years before. For a variety of reasons that are no longer important, it took me 40 years to get it. I had not heard of this particular line of clothing - this business - prior, but I recently looked it up. It is a story that sings to me.

The founders have a strikingly similar attitude towards life as I do. They have this positive spin on life that is apparently infectious. Their business has grown into an $80 million company with virtually no advertising. Perhaps the founders, Bert and John Jacobs are lying. Maybe they are somehow deluded. Perhaps other not-so-successful companies are envious. But for them and me and many others who strive for it, three little words, the name of their company, says it all:

Life is Good.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More Than Enough

After two completed semesters of postgraduate study, I remain in (very) good standing. At one third of the way towards a Master’s degree, I continue on a path that was not part of the big picture just two short years ago. Opportunity is a funny thing; multiple doors I never thought I could reach have opened and I am walking through them. A perfect storm of circumstances have set this course that is, literally, beyond my every dream. I never dared dream so big, yet here it is.

Those familiar with my musings here over the past three and a half years might recall that school was not my forte – I could excel, but never cared to. However, as major disruptions in my life materialized, it was in school that I sought refuge. Community colleges, vocational schools and, of course, universities sheltered me from the fallout until I could again regain my footing and go back to the “real world,” so to speak. And perhaps it was this dichotomy in perspective that drove me away from education when things got good again.

More likely, however, it was simply a means to an end and once that end was in sight, I would jump ship once again. Always chasing the brass ring, when school appeared to be an impediment, it was discarded for a more expedient path to riches – and the “richness” those riches could buy. But I was wrong and I have said so, though perhaps not quite so succinctly, before. Higher education, or whatever path one chooses, is as “real” as any other real world experience. All experiences are and the totality of my 46 plus years of experience has served me well, as unpleasant as much of it was.

And to be perfectly honest, much of it still is. True, I am currently basking in the successful completion of my second semester of pursuing my Master’s, but the last two weeks of that semester was grueling – and the entire semester was no cakewalk. More is coming – I have mapped out a three-year program that includes not only my own course work, but also instructing undergraduates as well. That leaves four more semesters of more reading and writing than I have ever done culminating with a thesis that is presently only in its early formative stages.

The past two semesters have not reduced the trepidation I feel moving forward, but it has increased my confidence that I am able to perform at this level. I now have a history that shows beyond any doubt that it is within my grasp. It remains to be seen what will materialize beyond, but other doors of opportunity, though not yet open, are within sight. A doctoral program is a distinct possibility, but I would be foolish to limit myself to only that. History also shows that doors of unknown origin and destination are likely to appear – I need only be open to the possibility.

The bottom line is simply that this thing we call life is never static; it is always new. The experiences I have lived - all the good, all the bad and all the ugly – have delivered me to this very moment. What lies ahead can only come from what has already transpired – every moment of every day for the past 46 plus years has created the now. The reward for what I have done is nothing more than a continuation from here – a new now. And for the past few years, that has been more than enough.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


It has been an exceedingly productive day. No major accomplishments like the end-of-semester frenzy just completed, just odds and ends, smallish errands and an afternoon of me-time reading and enjoying a beautiful and quiet afternoon on the veranda at my local Peete’s Coffee house. Very nice, very calm and very peaceful - I almost feel guilty, but not quite. I earned it – although it was an arduous semester, it was well worth the effort. I have four more ahead of me and there is every reason to expect more of the same, but right now it is time to relax.

I am good at relaxing, perhaps too good. But there is a difference between taking time from other priorities and honoring it as a top priority. It is so much more satisfying… and relaxing. True, there are always tasks on the “to do” list, but at the moment there is nothing more pressing than this. And this is good. It isn’t often, or at least it has not been recently, that I can really kick my shoes off (they are, as I write) and put my feet up with the clarity of knowing that my time, this time, is not being wasted.

Although I have the better part of a month off, there are still those not yet prioritized things that should be done – sometime. There are dates on my calendar that are committed and there are places to go and people to see, and many are not exactly what one would call chores. In all likelihood, there will be many more moments like this one in the coming days, but to dwell on upcoming events or tasks – even if it is a planned hiatus such as the one I am enjoying right now – is to take away from this one.

There has never been nor will there ever be any other time than now. Learning how to live in the now has not always been so easy – or rewarding. It is a fine line between living in the moment and disregarding dreams and goals, or lessons gained through hindsight. It seems to be only when all is in order, when the moments past have been duly dispatched and the course for the future is set that the now is as pleasant as it is. And it is, right now.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Motorcycle Mystique

I don’t remember when, exactly, it was. Probably sometime in the mid to late sixties, something happened. Enchanting is probably not the right word, but it was captivating all the same. It was multi-sensory – I could see it; I could hear it; but most importantly, I could feel it. It was the mystique of the motorcycle. I was infected and although its calling laid and waited for years and years, ultimately there was little I could do to resist its draw.

Although my first experience with two wheels and a motor was in the seventies on a Honda Trail 50 (street legal, but hardly a motorcycle), I have been riding real motorcycles since 1981. And though this column is about the freedom motorcycles represent generally, it is more about a specific genre that originally grabbed me and refused to let go. I don’t remember the specifics of that first motorcycle memory, but I do remember the sound; the visual memory is fuzzy at best, but I do remember the freedom; and although I can’t say where or when it took place, or what the weather was like, or even who else was there… it’s was a feeling that I now know and recognize so very well.

In the sixties, the U.S. car and motorcycle industry contributed to the bulk of the vehicles on the road. Specifically, the Japanese imports were not yet all that common and most of the imported vehicles came from Europe. As far as motorcycles were concerned, that meant Triumph, Norton, BMW and a handful of others were present in the United States. Harley Davidson was the lone survivor of the U.S. motorcycle manufacturers, but all of these early motorcycles on American roads at the time carried with them the same mystique – and the same characteristic presence:

Two cylinders, big and loud.

It seems today that there are two very large and somewhat overlapping general categories of bikes – or perhaps, two types of bikers. I personally discount the degree of difference among motorcyclists generally – we are all answering the same call. But how we answer it is a different matter altogether. There are those who crave the fluid lines and high-revving street racers, and there are those who answer it with the classics. We ride the modern day equivalents of those bikes produced in days gone by. We remember that feeling when a pack of Harleys passed us in Mom and Dad’s 1966 Impala station wagon – seeing them come up from the back window as we sat in the “way back,” we could feel it through the stamped sheet metal as they passed on the left, and we heard the sound fade as they experienced a freedom I could not yet know.

Since 1981, that experience has been mine, but more recently, I have created it on my own Harley. Every bike I have ever owned was “going to be a Harley,” but for a variety of reasons (often, but not always, cost) it did not come to pass. My last two bikes did not fall to the same repetition – I would settle for nothing less. My current ride, a 2007 FLHR (Road King Standard) is big, it’s loud and it has a presence – a big presence. It is similar in design to Harleys built generations ago, but also incorporates the modern technology available today. It is, in a word, freedom.

Yesterday, the Sunday before Memorial Day (which makes today, of course, Memorial Day), five of us decided to take a day trip around Lake Tahoe. We met for breakfast in Citrus Heights (near Sacramento, CA) at 8:30 a.m. and hit the road an hour later. There was a chill in the morning, but as the day wore on, layers of cold weather gear were stripped and stored. We stayed off the Interstate as much as possible, opting instead to take Highway 20 and Old Highway 40 as alternatives.

By the time we crested Brockway Summit on Highway 267 (linking Truckee and Tahoe’s North Shore), there was little question as to why we do what we do. Even without the glorious panoramic view of Lake Tahoe (one that I have seen thousands of times, but every time it’s like seeing it for the first time), the calming peace… the solitude one feels even when riding with others… that feeling of freedom I experience through my machine and the world was potent.

We continued around the Nevada side of the lake and stopped for lunch at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino before continuing our journey up U.S. 50 and back to Sacramento. In all, we logged about 250 high quality miles for no other reason than that feeling of freedom expressed through our machines. Of course, when riding with good friends, that experience, as individual as it may be, is shared. Although the mystique is marked, in part, by solitude, it is also enhanced through our shared experience – through fellowship. It is, in the moment, all there is.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


LAWTON, Okla. - I have had, in my middle-aged life, occasion to visit many of the states in this great nation. I have been to points north, east, south and, of course, I was born and raised in California. My family heritage, as far as the U.S. is concerned, is equally varied; my mother is an Oklahoma native, my father was born in New York. But oddly enough I have not yet visited the two states where my parents were born – not until one was knocked off the list yesterday. My youngest son just completed his Army basic training at Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla. and I came here to be a part of this seminal moment.

Over the years, I have not heard a great deal of positive affirmations regarding this state. Sure, college football is huge and there are prestigious universities, but as far as a place to live… well, it just doesn’t receive the highest marks. I do not say this without some degree of direct recount - remember, my mother grew up here. And although my visit here will be far too brief to make any kind of educated personal assessment, my recollection regarding my stay will be exceedingly positive due to the nature of the journey.

Military service in my immediate ancestral family has skipped a generation. My grandfather served, my father served, but I did not. The reasons are as much personal as they are political, both circumstantial and societal… reasons that in large part still exist today, though perhaps not as pronounced. When my youngest son approached me about joining the Army, I was a little taken aback, but not entirely surprised. Additionally, the personal reasons I had for not joining myself have been tempered with the wisdom of time, my mind much more open, the benefits far more visible. The long and the short of it is that military service is once again an integral part of my immediate family.

And I couldn’t be prouder. Although I supported his decision from the start and his departure for basic training had a surprisingly profound effect on me, after today’s graduation ceremony, I am truly connected. That’s not to say that I am somehow more patriotic, or that now I support our troops even more – I don’t think it is possible to further expand those sentiments, but I am now personally – very personally – connected to someone who has given his word to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. He has joined the ranks of just a very few who have chosen to protect the freedom of so very many.

All graduations are special. They all celebrate the accomplishment of something big, something not just anybody can do. I have attended several and earned the right to participate in a handful. This one was different. This one meant something greater than the sum of its parts. This one ushers brave young men and women into an uncertain world with solemn dedication – and honor. You could see it in their steely eyes; you could feel it in their collective, unified voice. They are rightfully proud of their accomplishments and will march confidently onto the path ahead.

Oklahoma isn’t so bad. True, the weather isn’t great; the scenery is base; but the people I have met are friendly enough… and the Army is here. Oklahoma will forever have a place in my heart and my respect for its part in creating the experience that has made my son a soldier. There is no more honorable profession than that of a soldier and Oklahoma is a fine place to embark on this journey. Mere words can never describe the pride I feel right now and Oklahoma will always be a part of that.