A Distraction of the Largest Magnitude

For seven and a half years, I have not had television in my home. And honestly, if I had a choice, it would stay that way. Actually, if it could have three, maybe four channels of my choosing, it would be okay. But as is, I pretty much despise it. (My future roommate has a TV and cable, so obviously, I will be making a huge adjustment to my life.)

I dislike that it seems so many just accept as gospel truth the side commentary that accompanies what is considered news. (Part of this is the lack of critical thinking skills of many.) At one time, news could be dependable as being objective. Today, even standard reporting comes from a spin. Take the same event, spin it according to the channel’s primary political bent, and, voilà – you have multiple “factual documentation” on the same event.

(For the record, I consider myself a moderate with SOME conservative leanings. Don’t think for a moment that some strains of conservative thought are safe from my contempt. Having said that, liberalism isn’t in the clear, either. Also, for those who are wondering, I voted third party this time around, knowing full well that it would be “futile”, save for my clear conscience.)

The programming in general is fairly lackluster. There are a few exceptions. I do purchase seasons of my favorites when they are released. I’ll gladly spend the extra dollars to support shows I like. And I’ll definitely binge watch these DVDs once purchased. That might seem like defeating my conviction of not watching TV, but on this I am selective about what and when I watch.

One the reasons I dislike TV so much is the huge time suck versus the opportunity cost of viewing….for hours at a time. I remember when a former roommate had Direct TV, on my days off from work I would wake up at noon, and watch mindless “educational programming” until 2:00am. I would’ve been better off playing video games, which I likewise don’t do. I’d much rather spend my time reading, writing, talking with friends, heck – even participating in social media (don’t get me started) seems to me has more benefits than digesting stuff that seems to have a literal “programming” agenda behind it. (Does it not bother us that we call our entertainment “programs”? What exactly are we being programmed to or for?) When I read, I feel more engaged and alive. I’m aware of processing going on in the grey matter between the ears. It seems like I have more of a choice in how I process, or even if I want to process it like the author wants me to. Granted, just like changing the channel or turning it off, I can always stop or abandon. But I can always go to another book I know I’ll like. I realize I can do the same things with TV, but the quality just isn’t the same as MY IMAGINATION. That’s why I prefer writing as a form of entertainment, too. Maybe no one will ever read it save myself, but at least I can enjoy the process of writing and being entertained myself.

So, I’m kind of facing my new living arrangements when I’m fully moved in with some respectable fear and trembling. I don’t want to succumb to bad habits. This is something I feel a personal conviction about. I want to be a good housemate to my friend, and spend time with him. But I am going to need to gird up my intentions so as not fall for the distraction of the largest magnitude.

The Strength of Silence

Sometimes the best thing to do is shut up. Not as a response to other people’s verbiage, but as a choice to direct the “conversation”. There’s a kind of strength that comes from choosing not to speak, from not giving others more fodder to chew on, from not contributing to the noise of a cacophonic conversation, or of a gaggle of gossip, or speculations or dreamed up verbalized pretensions. From not playing the game that everybody wants you to play. (There’s also a season when you should definitely speak out. I’m not referring to that season here.)

You choose not to play your cards. You fold. You pass. You move on. “Move along, nothing to see here…” (While others caught red handed are saying, “Smile and wave boys, just smile and wave…”) All the while, people are wondering what you’re up to. Part of it is being wise as serpents and peaceful as doves.

I have one of those resting faces that doesn’t express a lot of emotion. I’m guilty of not smiling much. It’s not that I’m not happy, it’s just that I’m so inwardly focused, that I’m not aware of my “face to the world.” I had a pastor who was similar, he has a face of stone, and he informed the congregation that he was bubbling over with joy. I get it, I’m the same way. I must say, however, the saying, “Smile! It makes people think you’re up to something!” thoroughly applies to me. That silence and sinister smirk…

As a result, I can be a part of a conversation and not say a word. At least, I am aware that I’m a part of a conversation. Others involved are at a loss as to why I’m not “contributing.” I learned long ago to not say much, because it keeps me out of trouble. I’m amazed that others who have become intimately acquainted with trouble haven’t learned that little nugget yet. The times when I do open my mouth and something inappropriate falls out, well, they have certainly reinforced my belief in the virtue of silence.

One of my biggest pet peeves are folks who enjoy the sound of their own voice. Let’s face it – you’re choosing to read this right now. If you don’t like what you’re reading, you can easily close the tab. There’s a handful of folks at work who run their mouths incessantly. The moment they speak – it’s nails across a chalkboard. I leave the area as quickly as possible as decorum allows. I can speak to 95% of my fellow workers and describe this scenario, and I assure you, they could name the guilty. Here’s the rub….the guilty? They have absolutely no credibility whatsoever. Even if they are speaking truth or fact, they come across as untrustworthy. All because they TALK TOO MUCH! And when two or more of these folks are in the same conversation? Heaven help us…

I have extraverted friends who can talk, and I’m not fazed by their verbiage. Because they know how to come up for air. They can read the conversation underneath the conversation. They get it. They can intuitively gauge the vibes of what’s going on. They, indeed, know how and when to shut up. This is a skill. I’m noticing that more and more do not have it. I think it’s a symptom of low self esteem in some.

Having “said” all of that, when I am around someone I wholeheartedly trust, or someone I’m excited to be with (and I can discern they are excited to be with me,) or the conversation is directed to something I’m passionate about, I can be a blabbermouth, too. There are seasons, and there are relationships…it takes some discernment to determine when keep it shut, and when to let the bone box rattle.

A little piece of fiction — The Legend of Rindo Razer

He was thinking he didn’t need his wrists anyway.

He could always adapt and learn to use his feet to do his trade. Pick locks, set traps, cut purses, tinker with finer machinery. He had seen the ape mongrels of Olon Toon, and they did wonders with their feet. Hmmmm…a point to study further.

The fire was increasing. He had never felt the sting of this fire, not under these conditions. Starved, thirsty, beaten, and bound in theses cursed manacles for three days. Technically he should be dead. He had been locked in manacles before, but escape was just a few twists and a hidden lock pick. This time, he had no such resources. He had nothing. And he was naked at that. Locked away in a cell in the 9th pit of Hell, or something similar. Cutting his hands off seemed like mercy at the moment, not for the need of escape, but to remove himself from the fiery sting of the Blood Manacles that held him in place.

Rindo raised his head to take stock of his current situation. It had not changed in the past three days. Locked in a small cell, about 4 feet by 4 feet, and about 6 feet high. Intended for taller creatures, to force them not to be able to fully stand erect, or fully stretch out in a reprieve of comfort, those inhumane conditions posed no threat to one the size of a dwarf. Rindo could stand with inches to spare, and could lie down as well. In fact he was lying down. If he could take refuge in sleep, or even better, death, that would satisfy him. But the burning from the manacles kept him awake. No chains to hold him in place, just rusty manacles throbbing with a fire that surely was intended to purge the unrepentant.

What went wrong? Where did things run afoul? Was he betrayed? Set up? He always thought he could trust Jarag, who always gave him the most promising of contracts. The fence always delivered with fair compensation, not slicing too much off the top for himself. Could Jarag have been swindled as well?

All for naught, at the moment. Rindo decided that as soon as he could squeeze a moments worth of focus, he would try to evaluate his next course of action. There was a small door, with an opening, used to offer scraps of food or a cup of water to the wretches within. Only once in his incarceration had it been used, to deliver moldy bread and a small cup of water, hardly enough sustenance for half a day. Rindo assumed that was about two days ago, but he had no real means of keeping track of time. He occasionally heard footsteps in the hallway, doors creaking open, keys rattling, screams from his incarcerated neighbors. But he could discern no patterns.

He couldn’t remember much after being knocked out cold in the confrontation at the cache, and his placement in his current abode. He was fighting hobgoblins, he knew that. Very organized hobgoblins. Orderly and disciplined. Not even very brutish. Odd. There were five of them, and he killed at least two before the telling blow to his cranium. They made no effort to dispatch of him quickly, they kept him alive. That was strange in itself. He obviously had some value to them while he still breathed. Hmmmm…maybe I should play this one out. Granted, he did not currently have the accommodations of a prince, but they are trying to keep him alive for some reason. If he could just clear his head….damned fire!

Through the fog in his skull he began to recall his assignment. He was to retrieve a silver urn and its “contents” from a cache of supplies and treasures owned by a grizzly fellow called The Mastiff, named for the entourage of various hounds and mutts he had circling him at all times. A minor gang leader, he was a trainer of hounds for the local hunting games, and for the use of The Warden of the forest, who himself was also an unsavory character. It was well known that The Warden would release various prisoners from the nearby river town of Charaby Harbour into the local woods, and let his beasts have their way. The Mastiff was always all to generous in his supply of mutts, and always had an offering of a rabid or diseased hound or two.

The patron of Rindo’s current contract, an anonymous nobleman from Portillia, claimed the Urn was a family heirloom, and it’s contents, although unknown as to their specific consumption, was used in macabre rituals involving corpses. Rindo hesitated in accepting this particular assignment, given its grizzly disposition, but he was behind in his payments to Norlock, and he had a persistent growl in his belly telling him his meals had been few and far between.

It was not revealed to him why or how The Mastiff had acquired the urn. And usually such details were not pertinent to Rindo’s acceptance of a contract. The question in Rindo’s mind was who were these hobgoblins, and why did they happen upon Rindo at the Cache? He had his doubts that they were related to The Mastiff – he had his own henchmen who were much more crude and ineffective than these hobgoblins. In fact, he had his doubts that their appearance and the urn had nothing to do with each other.

Right now, all he could do was wait it out. He would feign submission until the right moment. Surely he would be interrogated soon, and he might have the opportunity to have these cursed manacles removed. During the interrogation he could feel out for information as well, and also look for his way of escape. Patience was key, and composure for the ruse.

In what seemed to be an eternity, he began to hear the tell-tale signs of activity on the other side of the door. Creaking doors and clanging keys, and the grunts of the disgruntled. Hopefully, just a matter of time…

Mid Course Monthly Evaluation

This past week was challenging in terms of pursuing goals. Although I have successfully kept track of my efforts by logging progress nightly, I’ve recorded a lot of goose eggs. I don’t feel unmotivated, but I feel exactly what recording too many zeros is supposed to accomplished….an overarching feeling that I need to step it up, to act more strategically.

I did not take into account a distraction that will be with me over the next 2-3 months. I’ll be moving into a house, and moves are listed as one of the top stressful life events in a person’s life. Even though I’m spreading it out over two months, it still weighs me down. I’m pretty good at adapting, in fact, adaptability is a strength of mine, but there’s is an inherent part of me that resists change. The introvert who enjoys my status quo, even though I’m all about challenging the status quo.

Cold, wet weather is always a detriment to physical goals that are practiced outdoors. I will always take walking at Fairview Park over a treadmill. Since I’m not a gym member, that’s not even a option. So the goose eggs stack up.

My writing goals sometimes get sidetracked by my fear of revealing vulnerability. I get a feeling that I’m blocked, but I’m really not. I just don’t want to pour out something onto a blank page that might show my true self, knowing it might be revealed to the world. My strategy for that is just to write one sentence….and the rest soon takes care of itself. But that first sentence seems to be huge confrontation with the Resistance, as Steven Pressfield calls it, (or the Lizard Brain, as Seth Godin calls it.)

Another thing I have been trying to work on is my “people skills.” I’m a generally easy going guy, and it usually takes a lot to set me off. I try to be as helpful as possible at work. But my introversion sometimes holds me back. Sometimes I’m quiet when I should speak. Sometimes I play it safe when I should be more assertive. I’m trying to be more aware of these moments, and occasionally push myself into the discomfort zone. Being aware is the easy part. Pushing myself forward is the difficult part. My primary job responsibility at Wal Mart is sales associate. So “sales” is a part of that responsibility, (although since there is “nada” commission, you can hardly call it sales, sometimes it’s more like order taking.) I’m trying to be aware of those few moments when a friendly nudge might push the customer into a purchase. Like most folks, I’m disgusted with the idea of a pushy salesperson desperately trying to close. More than anything, I’m just trying to hone my listening skills. That in itself seems to be the basis for all things involving personal interaction.

I did fair with sticking to my budget, with a few unplanned purchases, and moving and tweaking other line items to compensate. I did focus on the majors, though, and those got squared away immediately.

Well….there it is. My first month mid course corrections. The trick is not to panic and resign oneself to “failure” when you’re off track, because that will happen. Asking yourself if what you’re doing is working and giving an honest answer will help keep you from deluding yourself if you’re making progress. Progress happens, drip by drip by drip, a little at a time. These kind of journeys require a vision for long term perseverance. Without it, you’ll find yourself run aground somewhere between resignation and apathy, which hardly sounds like a desirable destination.

Leaving Margin for Serendipity

We’re still in the shadow of the New Year Buzz, where folks are trying to get their lives organized around new goals and priorities. As I work on my goals, I find that I’m guilty of over scheduling every little thing that I want to do. As a result, I commit a costly error….leaving room for serendipity.

Serendipity is defined as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. ‘a fortunate stroke of serendipity’ ” Sometimes life happens, and it happens in a good way. And the tricky part is recognizing when what seems like a random event or happening is something that is a worthwhile pursuit. We need priorities. We need to be steadfast in pursuing that of which we’ve predetermined is necessary to achieve what is most important to us. But we also need to recognize we can relax a bit and curiously play with those little extras that come our way.

You might make an acquaintance who becomes a dear friend, or maybe a lifelong partner. You might attend an event where you learn one little piece of info or an idea that changes the trajectory of your life. You might see something, read something, hear something that inspires that one piece of art that grows into the masterpiece that defines your career. Or, it could be something much more subtle, yet has extraordinary ramifications in your life years from now.

The idea is not so much playing, “What if?” in a positive way, (which can be similar to chasing rabbits, a time waster,) but learning to listen to your heart. That in itself is a skill that takes practice. That’s why silence and solitude are important in this day and age of the flurry of busy-ness. This why I have a daily practice of meditating and spending time in God’s word and prayer. It’s a kind of daily reset where I connect to my values, and tune in to the frequency of God’s promptings.

There is a kind of balance of learning when to say Yes, and when to say No. Derek Silvers has what he calls the “*Expletive*, Yeah!” test. He says no to a lot of stuff, most of the stuff that comes his way. But if he comes into something that makes him say *Expletive*, Yeah!….then he unapologetically pursues that option. (I am not suggesting you use the same vernacular.) The point is that if something instantly gives you that overwhelming sense of passion, and you can look at it through a lens of wisdom and evaluate it as worthwhile, then give it a go.

Sometimes it might take some inner wrestling to determine if it is pursuit worthy. I have an opportunity to see a favorite band in May, of which I did not plan for. This competes with a commitment to a friend. This is an integrity issue. Guess what? The unplanned for event loses. Although it will be awesome, and there is still a chance I could go if the opportunity still exists after my commitment to my friend is fulfilled, I’m not compromising my integrity for what seems like a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to see something pleasureable, but not necessarily life changing.

Sometimes it’s also an issue of having the time-space available to not only experience the serendipitous, but even to be aware of it. That’s why it’s good to have some unplanned or uncommitted chunks of time in your schedule. This is called margin. You need it not only to breathe, but to recharge. You also need it to have those moments to listen to that still, small Voice. It’s that Voice that once tuned in to, will help you discern whether to pursue the offerings of those other seemingly random moments.

Work hard at what you are pursuing. Have a mission and vision, and values to define what’s important. Take the time to chill and be aware of what’s going on. Take a look at what’s being offered. Curiously question and play with what’s there. Learn to say a wise yes and a wise no. And run with what happens. The wind might push your sails to interesting places.

Unmotivated

I suppose it’s gonna happen. There’s gonna be those days. A case of the blahs. You just don’t want to do a darned thing. Today is one of those days.

It’s not that I don’t have any energy. Physically, I feel fine. Emotionally and mentally, I feel lethargic. I could easily waste these three hours before work on Facebook or Instagram. I could surf the web reading stuff that could be helpful, but more than likely I would find something negative, and that would rile my emotions up, and I’ll be mad at the world, and then latter scowl at customers, thinking, “Why are you bothering me? Go away! Shoo!” I’ll then hear my co-workers complain, and I’ll join in. We’ll create a symphony of cacophony.

There are a thousand and one things I’d rather be doing. Even organizing my sock drawer seems exciting. I could go get that root canal that I can’t afford. Maybe there will be a summons to jury duty in my mail box? I really just want to crawl back into bed and sleep the day away….and that thought is what wakes me up.

You see, I hate the idea of wasting a day away. I don’t know if it’s part of a mid life crisis thing, but knowing that I’m well over the other side of the halfway point in my life definitely shocks my senses. I want my waking life to be about something, anything but regret and remorse. I’m not one of those who feels like he has to purchase a sports car or go skydiving in order to feel alive. A walk in the park will do fine. So will a meal with a friend, or two hours in a movie theater. I’m kinda low maintenance like that. There are definitely bigger things I want to accomplish, and the reflecting one does at this time of the year definitely speaks to that.

Some days it’s kind of hard to connect the smaller things you do over the course of a day to the bigger things you have hope for. The ten minutes I spent meditating this morning were scattered, my budget I corrected seemed insignificant, and even the words I’m typing now seem like a self conscious pity party rather something uplifting and inspiring for others.

So, I say all of that to say this….there are going to be those kind of days. More than a few. The trick is not to change the course of momentum, or go back into resting inertia. More than likely, I am numb to the effect any steady drip is having on my life in these moments.

In the spiritual arena, these days are called Dark Nights of the Soul. There are days that one just does not “feel” the presence of God, any awareness is null and void. that doesn’t negate the presence of God. it just requires a faith to move on despite the feeling. It takes a bit of faith to get moving. You cling on to a sliver of hope.

Thirty minutes ago, this was a blank page with not an inkling of an idea how to proceed. A little bit of faith and some movement…and there you go.

Opinions and Body Parts

[Be forewarned, this one includes some crassness…]

It would appear that mankind is never at a loss for words. We like to hear the sound of our own voice. From the lowliest fool to the loftiest prince, humanity always believes it is entitled to its opinion. As Americans, we tout the 1st amendment as the holy of holies, and rightfully so. Oppressed speech is dehumanizing.
Yes, you are entitled to your own opinion…
But here’s a thought – try to have an educated, informed one.
Supporting Corollary – God gave you two ears and one mouth, which certainly means that you should listen twice as much as you speak.

Opinions are like elbows and “another part of the anatomy.” Everybody has one. (I am fully aware that there are an unfortunate few who were born without full arms. I’m assuming that if anyone was born without the said “another part of the anatomy”, that person more than likely perish hours after birth unless some emergency surgery took place, I’m not aware of this type of a medical event taking place, I could be wrong, I might be ignorant, please disregard for the sake of the metaphor.) Elbows are quite useful in assisting the arms to manipulate and articulate movement. The said “another part of the anatomy” is also useful, as an orifice used to eliminate bodily waste. Otherwise, an individual would be continuously full of crap. Sorry for such a crass metaphor. But let’s face it. How many of us know a few folks who spout out nothing but loads and loads of crap? Nothing in of itself very useful. The problem is that the crap is being eliminated from the WRONG orifice!

Most opinion is conjecture, (if not weighted down with hyperbole.) This in itself is not a bad thing. The scientific method begins with conjecture, if based on good observation. Therein lies the problem. How many opinions being spouted out by the masses are based on educated deduction and not assumption? And how many opinions are simultaneously vulnerable and robust enough to be tempered, even transformed, when another opinion challenges it?

On a daily basis, we are bombarded moment by moment by the steady flow of opinions from numerous people on various mediums. How often are our opinions formed by a smorgasbord of untested ideas from people we don’t know and probably wouldn’t care about if we actually really knew them?

You can never really know exactly what the public at large is thinking. If you take ten people off the street, whom you think all have the same opinion on an issue, and have them discuss their issues, take away any kind of demagogic individual in a group discussion, and you will find that they all have different frames of reference regarding the issue. All of them have different stakes. Different perspectives. Different contexts. Different risks. Some opinions might accurately represent society as a whole, or might not.

In no way, shape or form am I saying that one shouldn’t have an opinion. First of all, that would be impossible. Second, to say that would be hypocritical, because I’m sharing my opinions on a blog. What I am trying to convey is that too often our beliefs are based on the untested opinions of random people whom we may or may not want to be influenced by. We don’t take the time to critically test the opinions we form that are influenced by the untested opinions of others! We sometimes mistake having a conviction with untested passionate propaganda.

When confronted with a difference of opinion, what is usually the outcome? Well, it depends on the individual characters of those who have the differences of opinion. A lot of time, argument and discord ensues. (Argument in and of itself is not bad. The original idea of argument is “to persuade.” A lot of arguments I’m referring to do not fall under that category.) If one of the individuals happen to have a modicum of maturity, then the discussion can usually be steered in a civil direction. Maturity displayed in this example is “having your opinions and beliefs challenged without feeling personally attacked.” A quote by Dave Willis — “One of the truest signs of maturity is the ability to disagree with someone while still being respectful.” And Archbishop Desmond Tutu has stated, “Our maturity will be judged by how well we are able to agree to disagree and yet continue to love one another, to care for one another and cherish one another and seek the greater good of the other.” [Thanks to Melissa Crawford for helping me find these quotes.] I found this one…”In all tests of character, when two viewpoints are pitted against each other, in the final analysis, the thing that will strike you the most is not who was right or wrong, strong or weak, wise or foolish… but who went to the greater length in considering the other’s perspective.” Mike Dooley

We are all different, and we express ourselves through opinions. Sometimes we should critically analyze our opinions. Sometimes we need to withhold our opinion. Sometimes we need to maturely discuss and even argue our opinions. To argue is not to battle with words, and the winner comes out on top. No, to argue is to state ones opinion with the good faith that the other party will listen, providing that in due turn you will also listen to the other party’s opinion. With this in mind, you “seek first to understand, then be understood.” (Stephen Covey, habit 4) The solutions to our problems are not due to some intangible force “out there”, but upon our being willing to be vulnerable, responsible, visionary, and purposeful. This is done in harmony with the one who sits across the table from you, who at one time you viewed as your adversary, but is now required of you to view as your friend.