Sunday, May 31, 2015

'War's never a winning thing, Charlie'

In Ray Bradbury's immortal tribute to the Summer of 1928, Dandelion Wine, the boys encounter Col. Freeleigh, a veteran of the Civil War who, when asked which side he fought for, the winning or losing side, claims he doesn't remember.

"No," said the old man, deep under. "I don't remember anyone winning anywhere any time. War's never a winning thing, Charlie. You just lose all the time, and the one who loses last asks for terms. All I remember is a lot of losing and sadness and nothing good but the end of it. The end of it, Charles, that was a winning all to itself, having nothing to do with guns. But I don't suppose that's the kind of victory you boys mean for me to talk on."

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Please, no more Mondays

The puppy stepped forward.

"Don't go," she cried. "All I will do is lie in a chair with my head down, wishing I could burst through the glass door and gallop across the field chasing butterflies and smelling the flowers and everything else I find out there."

"I'm so sorry," the man told her. "But my day will be just like yours."

Friday, May 29, 2015

Planning for winter in the early throes of summer

It is not pessimism to stand drinking in the warm air and smelling the green smells while considering a time when this same vibrant land will be stark and covered with cold white snow and ice. For the winter will come.

We have a finite amount of time to till and cultivate and grow and create and harvest. It is a long time — time a-plenty to grow and build — but not an infinite time.

No time to waste on petty pursuits, or efforts that will prematurely destroy and end life. No, this season is for creation and construction. No time to waste on destruction of another's work or creation.

There is room for all of us to be. There is time to shine in the sun and run like the wind through the green and the warm, knowing full well that the white and the cold are coming to this very same place. Let these days be about life and love.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The taking away of breath

And there it was, silent and sudden, at the edge of the clearing. When you say, "It took my breath away," what you mean is that you took in a breath and held it, not wishing to let the air escape from this magical moment.

He didn't feel an excited explosion of joy and happiness. It was just there, standing there matter of fact and how-are-you good-morning-to-you-too, as if it had always been there and intended to be there for as long as it pleased and go on its way in its time.

No, not an explosion. The joy and happiness from the deer's arrival rose slowly and certainly until it overflowed, as if it had always been there and he could draw from that well from now on, anytime he wanted.

He overflowed with a sense of gratitude — to whom was he grateful? He claimed not to believe in a supernatural being, and yet he needed to thank Some One. Thank the universe? The universe didn't care a flying flamingo about him. Why should he thank the universe?

But gratitude was the emotion he was feeling. He was glad to be alive and in his moment. And so he murmured, "Thank you," to no one in particular, and he could have sworn Some One overheard him and murmured, "You're very welcome, my son."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The time of the dot-dot-dot

This will be the summer when . . .

This will be the day when . . .

This will be the moment when . . .

What is your dot-dot-dot? What is your dream?

When you decide that THIS is the time for dot-dot-dot — that is the instant when it begins to happen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The one thing you need to know

All you need to know is it's up to you.Whatever "it" is, you can and must take care of it.

That realization can and will fill you with fear. That realization can and – if you let it – fill you with the greatest sense of power and peace.

No longer is it out of your control. No longer is it dependent on someone "out there" who may or may not ever notice or care.

No – that is to say, yes – you have the reins of your life. You decide what happens next.

"If it's going to be, it's up to me." It really is that simple.

It's not easy. If anyone tells you "easy," they're lying to you or perhaps even to themselves.

But simple? Yes, it's really simple: You can be the change you want in the world.

In simple fact, if you are not that change, it won't happen. Not, at least, in your world.

That boss? That spouse? That senator? That president? They can't affect your world. They don't have the power. They can't get inside you and tinker with you – your soul, your attitude, your thoughts, your feelings. Only you can get that close. Only you can tinker with what's in there.

Yes, you can let them in. But the change – if you care to change – is up to you.

And if you're right – if they want you to change in a way you know isn't right – well, then, hold on. Don't let someone else take the power from you.

Oh, no doubt, someone with "power" can affect the external trappings of your life. They can confine you, adjust your wages, withdraw your job, beat you, steal from you, and cause you discomfort and pain – physical, mental or spiritual. Yes, they can even kill you.

But they can't touch you unless and until you let them.

By "you" I mean that special sentience – that unique essence of who you are – what makes you you.

It belongs to you. You were born with it, and it will stay with you until the mortal vessel you occupy and operate runs out of power.

You can never again control what happened before. That happened. It's over. But you can always control how you react to it, now, this moment.

Your reactions – your proactions – are in your hands. Your hands – those powerful tools that can pick up a tool and do your bidding. Those mighty tools that can reach out and build or close in a fist – that can nourish or strangle – that can grow a garden or drive a car or tear down a wall or take a life.

Your hands – your mind – your soul can be instruments of life or death. Choose wisely. Find wisdom. Seek truth. Ignore lies – no, wait: Correct lies.

You are not the only one who wants to know the truth. You are not the only one who wants to be the change. Help others understand.

But know this: Each of us has the power to change only one life – the one under the control of the person you call I. me. myself. You do not have the power to change or control your neighbor, your mate, your parent, your child, or that stranger.

You do have the power to persuade – or to force your will on others. In the first instance you can gain a soulmate, an ally, a companion, a fellow. In the second you gain nothing but solitude and hatred and bitterness and resentment.

You cannot take their freedom, no matter how high and thick you build the walls of their cage. Neither can others take your freedom, no matter how high and thick they build the walls of your cage. It's all up to you.

You have the power, you have the controls, you have the reins of your life – but only your life.

The extent to which you lead others is completely dependent on those others. The extent to which others lead you is completely dependent on you.

Decide this moment to take the reins of your life. They've been in your hands all along anyway. They've taken you to this place, good or bad or indifferent, where you are at this moment.

Where do you want to go next?

It's entirely – entirely – up to you.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Choose whimsy whenever possible

I know not what path others may choose, but as for me, give me whimsy or give me death!

When a terrorist hurls a bomb, let it explode in gobs of pink bubblegum, not shards of destruction. When a villain pulls a gun, let it shoot cotton candy.

Who needs profanity when "Oh, Schmitt!" or "Hokey smokes" will do?

Gently, dearies. Let these things be done delicately.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Step into the time machine and visit last month

(Scratchings found on a piece of paper)

Hello, future.

At 6 a.m. Monday, April 27, 2015, the sky over Dyckesville, Wis., was clear, the air was crisp and cool. How's the weather where and when you are today?

It's hard to believe that we here in 2015 don't realize what is about to take place, but then it's hard to believe that the people in your time have forgotten what we know is important.

Books and old newspapers (and mechanically reproduced sounds and images) are portals to the past. We neglect them at our peril.

So, too, is old technology. There may be something to be studied in that old machine – that 1941 Philco radio, that 1972 Plymouth Barracuda – that holds the key to the next step, something we've forgotten that is better than we replaced it with.

The past holds keys to tomorrow.

But still, all we have is now.

The world as it was when I wrote the words "April 27, 2015" is gone forever. No need to fret (or celebrate) – simply tend to the needs of the moment.

And on we go.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Sometimes a new idea is discovered in hindsight

For the last month I've been sitting in a chair with a pen and bound paper journal instead of turning on the computer first thing in the morning. I let the words take me where they will. Sometimes they're related to my current projects, but more often they're just little explosions – a thought, an image, an idea, an observation.

Last week Monday I posted one of these spontaneous outbursts on my blog with a photo of Willow as a pup. Tuesday I posted another with a photo of Dejah. Two weeks later I seem to be developing a habit.

You never know how one thing will lead to another, so I suggest you try something different and see where it goes.

Friday, May 22, 2015

One life to own

I can trace every misstep that led me into disappointment. Every step was something I did. Every act was mine.

The sooner I own my mistakes, the sooner they get fixed if ever they can.

How sad and how helpless people must feel who believe someone else is responsible.

How comforting to know that whatever is wrong, we each have the power to make it right.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What the puppy knows

The field outside is a lot more fun to explore than this small room with its four walls.

Running will get you there faster than walking.

In fact there is no "there" to get you – just a big old world with so much to see and sniff and hear and taste and feel that you'll never experience it all in one short lifetime.

So you'd better get busy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

4 things I didn’t know on graduation day

[My column for the May 20, 2015, Door County Advocate]

They say time flies, but it really doesn’t. You wake up one morning and suddenly it’s 2015, and the young man who remembers sweltering in the sun in a black robe while Sen. William Proxmire was awarded an honorary degree and a speaker who exhorted us to go forth and do great things is thinking, “Wait, wasn’t it just 1975?”

But of course it wasn’t. A day is a long time, and a year is a longer time, and today marks 14,610 days – that is to say, 40 years – since a full-of-himself, naive young man dove into the real world. For most of those days I have been what people call a journalist – a watcher of events and recorder of the first draft of history.

And what I have learned in all of those days! Here are four things I knew but didn’t fully know on my first day of work as a full-time reporter.

> There are no superheroes, just folks. I walked into a men’s room during a long city council meeting, and a U.S. senator came in and stood beside me. For some reason it was a revelation that nature also calls him during the days and nights.

They’re all just people, muddling along as best as they can, like you and me. Not big damn heroes. Not super villains. Just guys and gals who need to get through the day, feed the dog, sift the cat litter, same as everyone. It helps to remember that.

> You may not realize when you’re teaching. A reporter came in and started telling about the court sentencing she had just witnessed. She needed to share the raw emotion of the defendant, his family’s tears, the victims’ anger. Don’t spend the words speaking them out loud, I said, write them down while the moment is still fresh.

She wrote a great great story, and years later she told people what an important lesson that was. I needed to be reminded I had said that. It made me feel worthy. It also made me fear what I might be teaching on bad days.

> Success is a long-term everyday enterprise. When I ran for state Assembly, I was proudest that both the conservative governor and the leader of the city teachers union told me, “I never knew you were a Republican.”

That was because I had spent 22 years burying my personal opinion and trying simply to accurately convey what people were saying and doing. That was the job. It still is, except when the word “Opinion” appears on the top of the page.

> Every person is different. I have met good thinkers and compassionate people and rascals and scoundrels in every race, color, creed, gender, political party, ethnic origin, orientation, whatever. All of them unique. When we tuck people in a group, we lose sight of who they are.

You think you know what to expect because I’m an older white male journalist who once ran for Assembly as a Republican. Because of those assumptions you’ve done both of us a disservice.

Do yourself a favor: Stop thinking “All of those people are x” or even “Generally speaking those people are y.” Approach every person as a mystery to be solved, because most everything important about that person you cannot know based on the category you’re tempted to tuck them in.

> Oh yes, and a bonus fifth lesson: Never use a credit card. Never. Ever. Never. I’m still paying for that mistake.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

It's normal to feel abnormal


This is just the way your mind works.

If you think you're abnormal and broken, it's because you're normal and perfect.

It's normal to see what's wrong with ourselves and want to make it right. We get in trouble when we thinking "to make it right" is to make it like everyone else. But there is no "like everyone else" because each of us is unique.

Stop trying to fix what isn't broken. This is you. Revel in it! Be the best "you," not what someone else expects.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The morning of oh so everything

There was a day when sunshine exploded in the sky and the birds sang with joy and with weather alerts and with predators warnings but mostly just sang to announce the light was here and oh so streamingly joyful, and the puppy ran through the field tasting everything and sniffing the aromas and watching the birds overhead and the squirrels on the sides of the sides of the trees and marveling, "How do they DO that?!"

Joy. Being alive. The mystery and astonishing happiness-is-not-a-happy-enough-word-to-describe-this-feeling-of-being-alive.

Life is a miracle that each of us holds within ourselves, eager to burst into delighted awareness. Isn't this amazing?

Friday, May 15, 2015

The quacking of a thousand ducks

The body cries inertia. The false death of sleep is so tempting, so comfortable, but life is about movement. Life is of the soul, life is of giving. Heal thyself and then begin to heal the world.

Clear the cobwebs - clear the clutter - find the surface of the planet. OK, at least find the surface of your desk. Find the nuggets of clear thought that you buried in the clutter. Line up your ducks in a row and see how they quack.

With the clutter of his mind all pushed into a corner, he saw the whole picture laid out before him, the way it could be were the ducks in a row instead if scattered here and there, each quacking insistently to be attended. "Here!" "No, here!" "No, here!" cried the ducks, and the "there" slipped from his grasp.

"So much to do, so little time." Fie. The time is plenty. The need is understood. The ducks push to the front, each demanding to be heard. But all that is actually heard is the quacking of a thousand ducks.

He closed the door, so that only he and the dog were in the room. He closed his eyes and took deep, deliberative breaths. He cleared his mind, thinking nothing, listening but not processing.

One of the ducks poked tentatively into his consciousness, and he pushed it back. And another duck. And another duck.

They refused to line up in a row.

And so he accepted the chaos. And it was almost as good as fighting it. And it was better than fighting it.

It is what it is. He was where he was. Wherever he went, in fact, he was there.

From that day on, the ducks still refused to line up. But they cooed for him.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Choose your fire today, this minute

Every morning there is a choice to be made between light and dark, life and death, sickness and health. Words heal and words destroy. Choose this day, this minute, shall I heal or shall I destroy? The power is in the remarkable organ between your ears.

A choice must be made. Each day you choose life or death, light or dark. Making no choice is still a choice. The universe, they say, is moving inevitably toward entropy – and yes, at some point (in the unimaginable future) all energy will be used up – but you may use the energy at your command to serve the cause of entropy or to build.

Life or death, light or dark, building or destruction. So easy it is to destroy. So beautiful it is to build, to create and preserve beauty, to conserve for later valued use.

Choose to greet the light. Build the fire of warmth, not the fire that burns maliciously. Push, and overcome inertia. Lift, reach ever higher – crawl, then walk, then dance. All of life is art; what are you creating? What does your dance look like?

Light, not dark. In the dark, sounds are strange and unknown. The light reveals the beauty, reveals the joy, unleashes the known, banishes fear, generates knowledge. Serve the light and not the dark.

Good morning. Time to wake up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The sweet release of the run


Pay no attention to the clock that says you are growing older. Pay no attention to the aches and pains and cricks and popping joints. Pay no attention to the words that lie just outside your reach and refuse to spring into service. Pay no attention to anything but the breeze.

Just run!

Run like the wind, like a puppy, tail flailing in the sun, so happy to be running.

Run because you can, run because you have to, run because because because because because —

Because of the wonderful thing running is.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Your joy is waiting

A puppy needs to wrestle and jump and play and taste it all. All of it. All.

The dog remembers the puppyness and never lets it fade.

The man should not forget the boy. The woman should not forget the girl. They are still there, waiting inside.

Be alive.


Monday, May 11, 2015

The first of a thousand steps

Monday — the day of beginnings. The day the cycle starts over.

The exhaustion of Friday is forgotten, the frustration of Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday past, and here is another fresh start.

Rested and refreshed, we begin the journey anew. Another chance to get it right. Another opportunity.

The race is on.