Sunday, January 30, 2011

Neck of the Woods

Just another typical Sunday morning, gray, overcast, and cold has presented itself at the break of light. Take a deep breath and a slug of coffee and face the day.

Spiderman has crawled out of his tree and is now sitting beside the porch, his Santa cap on a tilt. There is more traffic than usual on the quiet street in the quiet neighborhood. Perhaps the figure cloaked in the black hood cap forebodes something evil, like death.
Speed up to move into the traffic pattern, attempting not to be a target. A few hearty souls jog, the moister forming clouds in their mouths. Their effort, while perhaps futile, is appreciate. One brightly color woman passes with a yellow iPod directing her pace. “Why?” I wonder, can’t people enjoy the sights and sounds and smells of the day without being manipulated by electronics?

The surroundings blend and flow without the involvement of our species that vision themselves as masters. Colors change, placement, direction, light, growth are happening every second, but we blur by them without a notice.
New paint job on that house, a new house being constructed (that’s a good sign), different automobile over there, all familiar, all interesting, all fascinating in the manner of enjoying life. Simple pleasures of discovery are relished as the journey continues.

The police car still sits by the church. “Why?” I still wonder. It’s a church. Then I remember the sights of the morning news and wonder how many of us would guard our possessions with sticks and knives? And that church, where I spent so many years being told how to believe and paying for it, was it only physiological training?
To see human nature, without forceful control, lower itself to the basic level is frightening. Anger has something to do with it. Mob rule flaming the emotions, but there are deeper fears of instincts that show themselves during these times. If one projects a future of muslin nations overthrowing the entire region of the globe, with the history a government’s approach of invading via the modern day crusades, then ponders the idea of panic in the streets as seen over the airwaves…. Ride on.
A stop for a water break and to defog the glasses creates time to reflect on the environment. The air is filled with the sweet smell of dryer sheets mixed with the pungent odor of gasoline and oil. The sleepy city is still quiet with only the occasional conversation by a pedestrian speaking to the air or the young ladies excited about going to a coffee shop, “Well she said…”.

Having the small brown birds appreciate the meager amount of seed left over from yesterday with a morning wake-up song is enough for me. Open the eyes to let the cold wind into the body’s core while taking a deep breath stills the thoughts, but the body pushes onward. Up the hill by the line of buses taking worshipers in mass. Watching the woman look both ways up and down the four-lane road, then looking again for a safe moment to escort two small children and a dog across the busy highway. Passing a street sign and remembering a different time and place.
Returning as the sun breaks through, the first part of this uneventful yet different routine has been accomplished. The body will cool and be replenished and move onto the next assignment on my bucket list.

Just another day in my neck of the woods.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Pitch

Selling and sales people I understand. I’ve been around them and worked directly with them for almost four decades.

They have the job of introducing consumers to items and describing the reasons why the product (or service) should be purchased.

Now this is an important asset to consumerism. Without the sales person, we, the general public, would not be exposed to wonder snake oil lotions or prefabricated shiny appliances, which we didn’t know we could not live without.
The good ones can read the personality of the potential customer and steer their persuasive presentation with surprising efficiency. They have answers for every question with a constant barrage of facts and features speeding the process of finishing the sale.

Some are not as good. They don’t understand (or care) about the product or service and are sent into the field with paperwork, brochures, and figures with a quota assigned by their manager to maintain their commission. If the sale is not made, it does not affect the sales person. They just move on to another potential victim on a list.

In the past week, while waiting for one contractor to appear out of the winter wind to finish a previous agreed upon job, I decided to get some estimates from several other contractors on another project. Searching through the Internet and yellow pages and BBB reports, I choice a few numbers and made the request. I was very clear at the onset that I was planning of the work to be done in the spring and ONLY wanted estimates to figure out a budget.
The first guy, young and energetic, with his emblazoned jacket and college smile, came by in his snazzy looking lettered truck and took a quick look at what I wanted to be repaired or replaced. I again told the young man that I just wanted the estimate. Before whipping out his suitcase of examples, he asked (as did all the sales people) how did I hear about his company. I’m sure this is a method to survey which forms of advertising work. To his surprise, I told him I knew the owner and founder of his company and used to prepare his advertising. After a brief yet impressive spiel, he pulled out a pre-printed form, did some quick calculations, visually scratching through the total and offering me a one-in-a-lifetime price if I signed on the dotted line.

His slip up came when he asked me to “guess” what the estimate might be. When looking at the total, I was surprised. It cost, even when his competent show of quality and durability, was a bit high. Within my reach, I wanted some comparisons before spending that much.
The second sales person arrived the next day, also in a lettered truck. I had used the company for another job and tried to use that fact for an opening line. He introduced himself as the owner of the company and carried no samples, briefcases, or even paper. I showed sales person number tow the same area. He did not measure or even touch the area. A quick scan and he was walking out the door. He gave me a rate for the item, but the price was the same for every item, no matter the size. After going to his truck, he handed me a brochure and recommended I go to the web and check out the specifications. I guess, he did not take Sales 101.

Sorry pal, you have to do better than that to get my bucks.
The third sales person, much like the first, had certain energy necessary to express excitement about the possibility I would give him money. He surveyed the area, made his presentation and recommendations. His price was reasonable and the product quality appeared suitable for my needs. He had delivered the customers expectations without over extending the pitch. When told he would be called in a few days, he was pleasant and not pushy.

Not bad.

The forth guy, again one of the owners, at least that what it said in the brochure and he told me personally with some aloof pride, gazed at my request but was more interested in commenting on the sale of the home and the neighborhood and other items which did not concern him or his company at this time. He asked what other companies I had interviewed, and then one-by-one dismissed them. His selling point was his company was local. He offered to do additional work, but when I showed him other projects, he was apparently disinterested.

How does this guy stay in business?

With the specifications and prices of all the different items in front of me, I had already made a decision.

Now everyone is happy.

Now onto the next project.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

You Left Me?

As I remember, we ended as lovers, but you may have remembered it different, perhaps it was not meant for you and I to be together, so we stopped, or did we just separate, or were we ever together, except to be in the same physical location, apart in dreams and wonders, going different paths, holding one another for strength, but not guidance, the same in time, yet time changes.
Or did I leave you? 

Is there an answer or should we even ask the question?

I had to add this comment from an unknown writer. It just fits:
Or did she wonder if she was only an uninvited intruder in your space while you silently watched her walk away?

Where Is Your Passion?

I saw this article the other day and am fascinated about the subject.
The Constitution may guarantee the pursuit of happiness, but, as we all know, landing the prize is a different story. It's a winding road through the options we're given. Buying stuff, status, wealth, popularity, the refrigerator, the medicine cabinet -- all the standbys have failed to get the job done. What really works, though, is something that wouldn't cross most of our over productive minds: a passion or a hobby.
Robert Vallerand from the University of Quebec at Montreal and his associates found that participating in a passion can add eight hours of joy to your week. I think we could all hoist a glass to an extra eight hours of freedom from the usual barrage of pressures and strife. But a passion doesn't just plug you into a dependable source of rhapsodic moments each week; it also provides the best kind of happiness: gratification, a lasting sense of fulfillment that the instant mood upgrades can't. Passions demand initiative and mastery, which go deep to satisfy core self-determination needs.
"Playfulness is the very essence of the universe," philosopher Alan Watts noted, in music, dance and activities that get us off the bullet train to the grave. Passions are stellar at this, planting you in optimal moments and connecting you with others equally ecstatic, widening your social circle. Studies show they increase positive emotions during the activity, boost positive mood and decrease negative feelings afterward.
Stocking up on positive events is important because we're usually in a losing battle against the negative avalanche barreling down on us from all sides. Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina has documented that we need a three-to-one ratio of positive to negative events to stay on the positive side of the ledger. The negative is that powerful, and it tends to be our default, part of the survival worrywart instinct we know and don't exactly love. Hobbies and passions keep the positivity pump primed.
Amy Doran was a newly divorced, without friends in a new town and facing the challenges of her son's epilepsy when she took up flying stunt kites. As she learned the ropes of the flier's aerial ballet, she wound up becoming a confident festival performer. She now has a host of friends and her son doesn't need his meds anymore.
Her son took up flying after he saw the fun his mother was having, and he got so good at it, he flew in front of millions of viewers on a couple segments of "America's Got Talent" last year. "My whole life I've been told I can't do things," he said. "But kite-flying changed that. I have something I'm good at."
With all that a passion can do for us, you would think that riot police would be posted outside martial arts studios or pottery classes to hold back the hordes. Instead, the stereotypes -- that hobbies are some pre-TV artifact, inveterate slacking or plain pointless -- keep us in terminal grindstone mode. There's another obstacle too that prevents more of us from pumping up our happiness every week of the year with a passion: We don't know how. We're taught how to make a living but not how to do the living we're making.
Unlike romantic passions, the pursuit that becomes a reason to get up in the morning doesn't appear across the room, setting your heart aflutter. It comes out of a process of building capabilities and a persistent quest for mastery. There are no thrills until you've gotten the skills.
Passions take foreplay. The passion that can transform your life from missing or just okay to extraordinary has to be developed. Pursuing happiness has a lot to do with pursuing competence. It's the pursuit of competence, wanting to get better at something, that fuels the skill-building process. Secondly, you won't get the satisfaction you want from a hobby unless your motivation for doing it is intrinsic. You have to do it to do it, not for a payoff.
As Alan Watts put it, "When you dance, do you aim to arrive at a particular place on the floor? Is that the idea of dancing? No, the aim of dancing is to dance."
Harmonious passions spring from a goal of mastery, an intrinsic aspiration that puts the focus on learning and drives practice. Effort is a critical component of satisfaction. Repeated practice leads to improved ability and further interest, until the activity begins to define you. The activity becomes your conduit to self-expression, tapping your core values and creating a focal point for life.
"It's changed me totally," Richard Weinberg, a 49 year old Chicago investor says. "It's really given me a purpose. I went to the office, had a great family to care for, but dancing shifted my spirits and energy and direction in such an amazing way. I feel 20 years younger than I am."
Having an enthusiasm that connects with you at a core level and gives you something to look forward to energize your life and provides a sense of direction and meaning, far from the rap of triviality hung on hobbies.
So how do you get your hands on this elixir? You have to select the right activity, something that would have internal value for you. It all starts with interests. Try many kinds of pursuits and see what connects.
When you find something you'd like to learn, stick with it. You need to be persistent to get through the adult phobias about not knowing everything and looking like a fool. An intrinsic motivation will get you through it. You're in it for the learning, not to be an overnight champion triathlete or tango dancer. A study of music students found that only 36 % developed a passionate interest in playing their instruments. The student who felt it was their choice to play, and not the result of pressure from others, would become the ones who found the love.
For an activity to turn into a passion, it has to click with your core needs, especially autonomy and competence. The final stage is internalizing the activity by valuing it as a part of who you are. You wind up seeing yourself as a “runner”, “painter”, “builder of ships”, “ writer”, “ poet” “rock and roll guitar player”, or “ dancer” which gives you a critical sense of self apart from the almighty identity on the business card that is not YOU but is very convincing at making you think it is.
This might be one of the best services passions provide. They introduce you to yourself, long forgotten under a pile of duty and obligation. They reacquaint you with the enthused, eager soul you used to be, pre-adult straitjacket, and give you a reason to be that person more often.
Joe Robinson is author of the new book, “which I will no promote here” on the science, skills and spirit of full-tilt living. I do not know this guy. He just wrote a blog that was similar to current themes so I included him.

PS. Some of the information has been edited, so don't blame the author for every word. Just think about it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Don’t Go There

While “Just Another Life” is an ongoing mystery unfolding into new adventures everyday, there are many subjects, either through life experiences or lack of interest, I will not write about.

I vow not to wander into politics, entertainment, fashion, or other trite subjects that have become such a bore. Many are simple fillers of time and others will roll along without me using this space as a forum for comments. Media invading every aspect of our beings with details of useless excessive reports on these subjects provides more than enough coverage. The opinions of the acknowledged knowledgeable heads can easily be dismissed or avoided. The consequences remain the same.

Every organization designed to present information have created topics according following business, politics, sports, entertainment, food, travel, health, family, books, religion, education, and art. With the expectation of keeping up-to-date and fluent in these subjects the constant varied discussions are presented to each being on this planet that tends to pay attention.

Business is business. Manufacturing, distributing, marketing, selling and buying goods and services fosters the desire for an ongoing demand for a new, better, different, hip, comfortable lifestyle. Money is made by those innovative enough to inspire the human spirit and crafty enough to profitably produce trends.

Politics, in its dream world, is creating rules for the masses to obey to maintain a civil existence. The few who apply for public service representing the majority of those who wish to partake in the voting process, must comprehend a multitude of views requested for action. It is also a business.

Sport is entertainment, just like dancing, singing, eating fire, or driving a car at high speeds. What was called a “game” is now, also a business. Follow your banner and celebrate if your tribe defeats the enemy.

Other entertainment such as news, media presentation, commentaries, talent contest and viewing reality are a business directed, produced, and manipulated by advertisers and sponsors. As in the roman circus, the thumbs up or down are done on a remote.

Food, the preparation, presentation, and consumption is a necessary to maintain life, yet an industry of books, television shows, restaurants, and entertainment stars have moved a simple pleasure into a mass media business.

Travel has expanded within a lifetime. Traveling the continent on dirt paths has grown into an industry of black ribbons tying every town and village together in a never-ending web fed by fossil fuel. The entire globe is within reach, for those with means, yet the desire for exploration is easily satisfied by a click of the mouse.

Books were precious and kept in secure libraries, to be offered for a brief viewing by members. The words fed our minds with wondrous thoughts and dreams, only to be overwhelmed by the tsunami wasteland. Unrestricted ability to obtain words, sentences, and thoughts has turned an educational process into an abbreviated chat.

Education, the teaching of wisdom and motivation for innovation, has deteriorated over the decades to the point, possibly of no return. While some still view the training importance and stress their young to succeed at any cost, the responsibility of each individual to think is becoming a dying skill. Perhaps education should be a business?

Families with their marriages, births, gatherings, divorces, obituaries, feuds, and familiarities fill the air with constant status updates. Dysfunctional tribes with the same name follow their genealogy sharing images with others with a pride of accomplishment. The common thread of population growth, not to replace the fallen or increase the workforce, has covered the shrinking planet with poverty and disease.

Religion has taken a core value of our mysterious being, our inner faith in the unknown, and transformed personal beliefs into business. By joining the club in hopes of a better conclusion; the way is clear for the betterment of mankind, but there are too many clubs and they do not agree.

Art continues to fascinate. Every day surrounded by shapes, sounds, smells, color, light so many overlook, the view of the few who understand keeps my interest. Much of the presentation of art in all manner of forms is also a business; the process of creating beckons the question why more are not rewarded with the privilege to enjoy life.

That is enough of this extrapolation of life. It is time to clear the mind, swallow cold air, pump the engine and shake the webs out.

What’s On Your Mind?

Looking back through a couple of years of writing this blog thing, I see a pattern. Certain ideas keep appearing and re-appearing. Perhaps these are the most important dreams my mind can focus on. Then again these may be problems I cannot overcome.

Some of these words have described journeys and travels, trying to capture the significance of the drop of a leaf, the sound of a bird song, a passing hawk, or the bright sunshine. Some of these words have spilled out from a series of stressful occurrences. Some of the subjects are serious and some are just silly.

Again, I remind the poor reader, this is only a journal of a madman, not to be analyzed but to be enjoyed in its declaration of insanity. The structure is raw and properly incorrect, but stream-of-conscience writing happens like this. Proofreading seldom happens. Like an artist brush stroke, once the paint hits the canvas, it is what it is.

I must also inform whoever visits this site that I am also writing recollections of a former times of youth and music. To accompany that effort, I am digitally recording and in some cases, re-recording two hundred songs written by others and myself since 1965.

As my wife used to say, I’m living in the past. True, but it is a time that shaped my future. It is a harmless recollection of experiences so important that they never were forgotten. Which ones remain is part of the discovery of how I got here.

Perhaps this happens to everyone. Is this why we put photos of events on the wall or videos on YouTube, to remind us of an event or occasion that etched a groove into our gray matter?

Riding a bike is one daily ritual that has become a constant topic. What started as an inexpensive manner of transportation to work while getting some exercise, then changed to be a place of recluse, as comfortable as the morning run to a jogger. A steady pattern of movements over familiar pathways created a time of silence to contemplate what could never be spoken. Now I find being outside, in the sunshine, wind in my face, accompanied by black birds and yard monkeys, seeing unknown neighbors who wave and smile energizes the body and mind. Each day’s ride is a new experience opening my eyes to the wonder of the everyday surroundings.

Isolation and solitude are recurring subjects due to the adjustment of living alone. Many past conversations have expressed the desire for “me time”, but when it is really here; amazingly, it is not as satisfying as expected. All the toys and tools and space available do not afford motivation. My favorite method to actuate dreams is to write them down like a to-do list and check them off as I go.

Conversation seems to be a topic I return to again and again. I may have been silent longer than I thought. The jester facade has diverted meaningful exchange of words describing wants, feelings, desires, passions or any other emotions stuffed away.

The old trunk has brought out lots of subjects. Treasures that have been stored through so many years must have significance. The effort to drag them along with me through the years has now become a revelation of simple items I have cherished.

Photos, letters, newspaper clippings, books and pamphlets, trinkets and memorabilia put away in a dusty trunk for some unknown reason are finding their place again. As I have found with so many photos, there is only a description to someone who understands. Now I can trash some of these reminders though the memories are fresh. Other treasures have been passed on to surprising joy. Maybe that was the reason for keeping them so long.

Dreams and sleeping have awoken my realization that the nightly rest our body requires is not as easy as it once was. Time has allowed me the privilege to explore these visions that come in the darkness.

Some of the writings are just descriptions of surroundings or occasions. A fascinating experience that occurred during this period of spreading out type involved feeling the pain and pleasure I had felt a teenager anguish while having the understanding to appreciate it.

The “Adventures of Ike and Ginger”, to anyone who knows me, was a release of craziness. A core group gave me characters I had already recreated in my mind. None of the players reflect reality but were visions of what I manipulated in one point of view perhaps is truer than imagined.

While these writings are a journal, endless ramblings not worthy for others to read, I will continue to use this format to express my thoughts. If nothing more, it gets me to confront what would cost big bucks to a professional head doctor.

As more thoughts turn to the daily struggle to get simple tasks finished, the wonderment of our surroundings, the joy relating thoughts and visions to print or recreating sounds flooding my head, I will continue to fill the memory of some foreign hard drive with letters, turned to words, linked to sentences, trying to relate to myself that it is all “Just Another Life”.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


The wondrous wizard speaks of things,
That has no meaning now
And gestures to his handmaiden,
Who nods, and courtly bows
Through the door to see the sorcerer,
Who’s been raising quite a row?
The nurse and I went for a walk,
To keep my toes alive
She said I was too old for dolls,
But I'm only sixty-five.
The ghost of Hamlet's father screams,
And hides inside a wall
Not to be seen by the sorcerer,
Returning from a ball
But, he saw him anyway, you know,
Magicians see us all.
Sister, sister, come and see,
My friends have come to play
They brought me jolly candy sticks,
Why not let them stay
Why do they go away?
The jester and the mighty king,
Have joined the great parade
Telling jokes and making laws,
That keeps us all afraid
But, then he gets his parts confused,
Which ends his sad charade.
The gallant knight comes dressed in white,
Advancing with his lance
And once we have been touched by it,
We lose the will to dance
The greatest warlock of them all,
Has but us in his spell
And sends us to our clean white cells,
Where we are asked to dwell.
(l.s.d. 1969)

If I Were You ….

Giving opinions is one of the reasons we talk to one another. One person replies to another statements with a similar life experience or personal suggestion. These sharing moments can bond us together forming lasting relationships. Sometimes a life changing moment can be realized by a few words.
To some, the ones we trust with our inner most thoughts, we cherish the comments, sometimes learning while other times are comforted.

Now the closest of friends do not ask deep meaningful questions and expect thoughtful answers as in our innocent youth. The proper response is to participate in a conversation without delving into personal space.
Others may give similar references, but they are ignored or curiously contemplated then discarded.
Some comment to boast of triumphs hoping the other will follow. Some comment to expand in detail a personal reflection. Some will just give an option, whether requested or not, as a sign of knowledgeable prestige.
We seem to enjoy forming other people into our own views. Interpretations of words molded by ones own values do not always match the unknown.
If not this, what else do we talk about?
Politics and religion are out of bounds hitting too many pressure points. Weather, sports, fashion, and entertainment subjects are quickly forgotten as the talking heads on the screen. Family comparisons rewards self accomplishments projected through members of the same clan.
At the end of the day, we separate back into our confines to evaluate, analyze, and perceive others through a word or a phrase.
Perhaps actions are loader than words.
Over the past two years, I have had few conversations, yet I listen more intently. Trying to relate what I know or knew about someone else, I hear easy conversation of clothing, money, transportation, work, and family; but it is not the same. Is there nothing of substance to talk about?

Real meaningful conversation is like love making. You must work slowly into it. If the results are shared, both are fulfilled with a new understanding of one another, but if a common ground can not be found, neither will want for more dialog.
Excuses of time, alcohol, or interruptions attempt to blur the barriers we build around ourselves. Whatever the motive, self preservation or contempt, we do not read our life’s script, we only paraphrase.
Then again, “if I were you, I’d…”