Friday, July 8, 2016

Mindfulness - Part Two

Thank's to the medical community, mindfulness has become an everyday part of our language.  Don't be fooled by flood of material on the subject.  Mindfulness isn't a new topic.  The Buddha taught mindfulness over 2500 years ago.  In fact, he taught mindfulness and meditation, mindfulness' primary tool of implementation, for over forty years.

 It should also be noted that even then mindfulness wasn't an original concept.  In fact, the roots of mindfulness stretch so far back into recorded time it's impossible to know where it originated.  Perhaps the practice of mindfulness is in the human genes.  I, for one, believe that to be the case.

The simplest definition of mindfulness is: being totally in the moment.  In other words, being totally focused on what's happening in this moment, with no part of your attention anywhere other than in this moment.

We've all done that in moments of what I call "situational mindfulness."  Those are moments when the situation demands our full attention.  Life threatening moments, for one, demand our full attention, as do moments of extreme pain or pleasure.  However, when the situation returns to normal, our attention quickly leaves the moment and wanders into the past, the future, daydreams, nightmares, whatever.

For the purpose of this post, I'm not concerned with situational mindfulness.  I am speaking of mindfulness-on-demand or mindfulness by choice.  Or, for the sake of simplicity, just plain mindfulness.  Most of the self-described mindfulness gurus of today focus all their energy on meditation, which is simply a tool for building one's mindfulness practice, but shouldn't be confused with mindfulness itself.

Meditation is to mindfulness what a hammer and saw are to a building project - important but not the project.  Mindfulness, or being totally present in this moment, the only moment there is, requires a calm mind.  Before a person jumps into meditation to calm their mind they have to know why their mind isn't already calm.  Or, to put it another way, why can't I just bring my full attention into this moment and keep it here by simply deciding to do just that?

The best answer I've ever heard to that question was this line from The Last Samurai:  "Too many mind..."  Watch the clip and you will understand:

That was Nathan Algren's  introduction to mindfulness.  Later, during kendo training, Ujio defeated him in two rounds and then Algren recalled the lesson Nobutada had shared - No Mind - and he... well, see for yourself.

Mindfulness is the practice of moving into the state of "no mind" or more aptly, the state of one mind, or simply Oneness.  To get there you will have to give up anger, stress, and worry.  Obviously you can't just walk away from those "minds."  At least not until you know more about where they came from and what they are.

That's what I'll talk about in my next post on mindfulness.

Your comments are welcome.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Everything Matters

This summer marks the tenth anniversary of United Portrait Studios, a small business, owned and operated by three individuals dedicated to the proposition that "everything matters."

We so believe that simple statement that it is imprinted on our sit tickets - a combination work order/invoice/receipt.  That means that everything we do is imprinted with the words, "everything matters."

In ten years, no customer has ever asked about or even mentioned "everything matters."  That is of no concern to us.  "Everything matters" printed on their sit ticket isn't for our customers.  It's for us.  It's a reminder that everything we do, from snapping the photo to delivering the print matters.

And its more than that.  It's a reminder that no task in our business is more important than any other, no customer is more important than any other, and no transaction is held higher than any other.

And its even more than that.  "Everything matter" reminds us, the three of us who often meet ourselves going and coming as we move fast to insure we meet all of our commitments, that this moment, not that moment or any other moment, is the only moment we have.

"Everything matters" reminds us that the shy child on the set, the one who needs extra love and attention, is the only child there is.

"Everything matters" reminds us that the frantic parent calling about that special 8X10 she forgot to order but must have for her grandmother's birthday this weekend, is the only customer we have.

"Everything matters" reminds us that the father sent to purchase pictures, though he'd rather be facing a salary review or a herd of charging elephants, must receive our full, undivided attention, with a double-shot of love and understanding.

And, "everything matters" is the doorway to this moment, the only moment there is.  And "everything matters" and this post is the gateway to a blog series that I'm calling - Mindfulness and Meditation.  Join me and share your comments.

Friday, June 24, 2016

We Don't Walk Away

To live one's life without having known The Doctor, Dr. Who that is, would be like missing the last ten minutes of the third movie in the Lord of The Rings Trilogy, walk off home runs, three pointers at the buzzer, or any of an infinite number of inspirational moments.

Granted, I've come late to the classic BBC series, but that doesn't mean I'm not as devoted as any Dr. Who fan who came before or will come after me.

In case you've not met The Doctor, click the arrow and invest fifteen seconds of your time and you'll understand what I'm talking about.

"Listen.  There is one thing you need to know about traveling with me... well, one thing apart from the blue box and the two hearts, we don't walk away."

After it's all said and done, the only legacy that matters is knowing that you never failed yourself - that you never walked away.

That's not something one can explain to another.  It is only something one can live.

And, best of all, it's never to late to stop walking away.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Don't Confuse Success With Excellence

Ken Burns, filmmaker, delivered the commencement address at Stanford this spring.  I wouldn't have known that had his topic not been Donald Trump, which caught my friend Ralph Miller's attention, who forwarded the presentation to me.

I'm not going to make a political statement, however, I've included the video if you'd like to hear it.

Instead of taking a whack at Trump, which is way too easy, I'm going to take a noteworthy line from the presentation and share it with you.

The line is "Don't Confuse Success With Excellence." That seems self-explanatory... or is it?  I've thought about it a lot since I heard Burns' presentation, and though it might be self-explanatory, as is often the case with self-explanatory things, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Thanks to television, smart phones, social media and other instant electronic entertainment presentations, there is little time left for contemplation.  Information; right, wrong and neutral, is flying at us at such speed that we have established filters which automatically sort and file it without consideration to content, accuracy, or importance.  All that matters is grabbing enough from it to carry on a thirty-second conversation about it at work or at the gym.

Yes, Mr. Burns, we do confuse success with excellence.  We also confuse right with wrong and black with white.  We don't do that because we're stupid.  We do it because we're into information overload, and we're afraid if we back away from the deluge we'll miss something important.  Or, to put it another way, we are drowning because we don't believe we have time to learn to swim.

The issue isn't confusing success with excellence.  The issue is taking the time to consider the issue.  It's time, and way past time, for us to withdraw, breathe, and remember what matters.  That's right - REMEMBER.  Because, Mr. Burns, we do know the difference between success and excellence, right and wrong, and black and white.  What we don't seem to know is how to step out of the river of bullshit and relax in what matters.

Tomorrow we'll look at a timeless way to do just that - it's called Mindfulness.


Insist on heroes and be one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

When You Matter

As I searched, with little success, for the right illustration for this post, I remembered The Storyteller, a print I purchased in a Seattle mall during an art sale more than thirty years ago and that was the end of the search.

The look on the fairy's face as she gazes at the storyteller is what this blog is all about.

I saw the same look on Joe Bonamassa's face as he described how he felt when he first heard Eric Clapton.  As he told the story, he was standing on the stage at the Royal Albert Hall, an ambition he'd held since being inspired by Eric.  Then he introduced Eric Clapton, and the two performed Further On Up the Road together for a packed house.  Take a look:

Note for Ralph, who, in response to yesterday's blog, This Train Stays on the Track, said he would like to see Joe Bonamassa and Buddha perform together - at 2:19 in this video, Buddha granted your wish.

As I watched the video for the fourth or maybe fifth time, I thought of the first person, outside my immediate family, who inspired me as the Storyteller inspired the Fairy and Eric Clapton inspired Joe Bonamassa. Her name was Ms. Tillman and she was my first grade teacher.  Had it not been for her, I'd not be able to write this post because moments after being dragged into her class by my mother, I made up my mind that I'd die before I'd let that happen again.

As I look back almost sixty-years to September 1947, I realize, not for the first time, that Ms. Tillman knew how I felt.  She understood the resolve behind my commitment to never return to her class or any other class even if it meant death.  To her  credit, she didn't decide to put my resolve to the test.  Instead, she showed me the value of reconsidering my vow, and she did it in a way that made it easy for me to understand and take a different position.

That's what a person who cares does for one they care about.  First they make it clear they understand your position, and then they show you other possibilities.

Take a moment and think of the first person who did that for you.  Now, think of someone you've done it for.  Before you leave those thoughts, consider sharing them with us in the comments.  We're looking forward to reading them.

Now go out in your world and inspire someone.

Monday, June 13, 2016

This Train Stays On The Track

I found Joe Bonamassa because I heard a few lines of a Beth Hart song on a now all but forgotten Google search. Though I've forgotten the object of the search, I'll not forget Joe and Beth.  If you look at this video you'll know why.

Yesterday I was poking around YouTube and found Joe and Eric Clapton on a video recorded at Prince Albert Hall.  I'm not including a link to that one (it's easy to find) because it will be at the heart of my next blog post, When You Matter.

So, how did I get from Beth to Joe to Eric to Buddha? That's easy.  I took This Train - another Joe Bonamassa song/video.  I'll put the link below.  As you listen to the song and watch the fantastic vintage train film clips, listen for the line, This train stays on the track.   That line was my link to Buddha, or to be more specific, The Dhammapada.

  If you aren't familiar with The Dhammapada, here's a note from the Dhammapada - The Sayings of the Buddha, rendered by Thomas Byrom, that describes the classic:

"The Dhammapada is a collection of the sayings of the Buddha (563 - 483 B.C.E.).  They were probably first gathered in northern India in the third century before Christ, and originally written down in Sri Lanka in the first century before Christ. Dhamma means law, justice, righteousness, discipline, truth; pada means path, step, foot, foundation.  The Dhammapada was transmitted and recorded in Pali, the canonical language of southern Buddhism, and it has become the principal scripture for Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

When Joe sang, This train stays on the track, my mind flashed to The Buddha's teaching:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
           (Chapter 1 First passage)

Joe and Buddha are clearly on the same page.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Guiding Hands

A few minutes ago my buddy, Ralph Miller, emailed this note, under the subject line, A Blossoming New Business Venture."

"I’m thinking this might be something to earn me a couple extra bucks in my retirement!"

I know Ralph is never going to retire, and I know it isn't a possibility for me either.  However, with Ralph you never know for sure, so I thought I'd better take a look at his "blossoming new business venture."

In case you missed the opening line of the video, here it is again:

  "In today's modern world, you can watch what you're doing or you can watch where you're going, but you can't do both."

Years ago the word "multitasking" was coined by IBM to describe a computer capability.  At some point, it was applied to the actions of human beings.  That we can't do it, is the point of the Guiding Hands Video.  Despite the overwhelming evidence that we aren't up for multitasking, we continue to try, and try, and try; to the point that, though I'm sure neither the National Safety Board nor the Center for Disease Control consider multitasking a threat to humanity, I believe it has become the major threat to the long range possibility of the survival of humanity.

How many people have to die while driving before multitasking is identified as the cause of the fatalities?  How many marriage have to end?  How many wars have to rage?  How many kids have to take their lives before we do something, or more appropriately, before we stop trying to do so much and simply stop, take stock, and realize that simpler was better and best of all, it's still ours for the taking?

I suppose it isn't natural for a human to stop and smell the roses.  It takes self-honesty to stop cold and say "This isn't working.  There must be a better way."  And, it takes a hell of a lot of courage to find that way and take it.

I'm convinced that it's time for us as a species and as individuals to backtrack to the forks in the road and pick one instead of trying to multitask our way down all of them.

It probably wasn't the fork that Robert Frost chose that made all the difference.  In fact, I'm willing to bet that if he reconsidered his words today he would say that choosing only one made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, poem published 1920


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Haunting Poems - The Ones That Cross Time And Wake You...

I dreamt last night that there was wind and rain.
I got up and looked out, but all was strange;
A muddy track across a wooded plain;
A distant tumult; angry cries, exchange of fire.
And then, out of that dreadful night,
Appeared a scarecrow army, staggering,
Defiant, famished.
In the quenched starlight
They marched on to their bitter reckoning.

Their sleepless, bloodshot eyes were turned to me. 
Their flags hung black against the pelting sky. 
Their jests and curses echoed whisperingly, 
As though from long-lost years of sorrow— 
You’re weeping! What, then? 
What more did you see? 
A gray man on a gray horse rode by.

That is a haunting poem.  One that reaches a hand through time, shakes me awake and drags me to the bookcase, where I search for an obscure book that I'm sure holds the haunting poem.

Ozymandias was my first haunting poem.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said - "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Since I met the King of Kings, there have been other haunting poems for me.  Bold time travelers all. And, they have another commonalty.  They don't hide their true nature. For example, recall for a moment, your first reading of "She walks in beauty like the night..."  I'll bet you didn't think you'd just stumbled on to nursery rhyme when you read that, and I'll bet you didn't stop reading there. 

You don't have to be asleep to be visited by a haunting poem.  You can be idly reading the blog post of friend, like David Atkinson, and happen on "There was a man who dwelt alone beneath the moon in shadow..." which is a line of a poem written by JRR Tolkien.  A poem long forgotten, now rescued, and dragged into the twenty-first century, where it just might trigger the appearance of another of my haunting poems, like the one at the beginning of this post.     

That poem, was written by Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down, and is from the first page of my favorite Adams book, Traveller.  The gray man of the poem is Robert E. Lee.  The gray horse, Traveller.  Two  historic figures, who, when portrayed in poem became one of my haunting poems and as such, not unwelcome midnight visitors.

Just in case the woman who walks in beauty like the night haunts you, I'll leave you with her, thereby possibly saving you from a midnight fall as you search your bookcase for her... 

SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.
Lord Bryon

Sunday, February 14, 2016

First Valentine Card

"How do you know what's inside?" He asked.

He'd spoken so softly I wasn't sure he was talking to me.

I turned toward him.  Probably late thirties or early forties I thought.  He was peeking cautiously out from under a battered blue baseball cap. Hiding, I thought.  He'd probably rather be caught in a saloon or even a church rather than the local Hallmark shop.

  He stuck a Valentine toward me and asked again, "How do you know what's inside?"

I took the card and thought I detected a tremble in his hand, but I wasn't sure.  The card was hermetically sealed in cellophane, to protect it from damage.  Over zealous shoppers can be a problem in a card shop.

I flipped it over and took a half-step left until our shoulders touched and pointed to the paragraph on the back that began, "The message inside is..."

He snatched the card back, before I could read the next words.  He held the card close to his face stared at the now revealed message, shook his head, and in an even softer voice, almost a whisper, he said, "We've only been dating for two months.  I don't want her to get the wrong message."

He dropped his eyes, and I slipped the card out of his hand and read the message.  I looked at him and he raised his eyes to mine, "You're right, you don't want to give her this one," I said.

For a moment, I thought he was going to cry but he didn't.

"What should I do?" He asked after a couple of seconds of staring at the card?

I looked to the right and spotted a card, also hermetically sealed, that I had just put back on the shelf. The front depicted a stylized eyelid, closed in a wink.  I flipped it over and said, "This message is pretty noncommittal."  His eyes glazed for an instant, and I clarified my statement, "She won't get the wrong idea from it.  It just says, 'You make me want to wink.'"

His eyes went blank and he handed the card back saying, "It's a girl's eye."

"You're right," I said.  "I hadn't thought of that."

Actually, I had thought of it but didn't think it would matter.  Silly me.

Before I could suggest another, he moved away, and with the secret information I'd given him began searching on his on.  I don't blame him, I thought.  Obviously a grizzled old guy like me could get him in serious trouble.

Later, we checked out at the same time.  He'd found a Valentine that met his conditions, but he didn't bother to let me read the message inside.

However, he did ask about the Olivina lotion and soap I was buy, and before I could mislead him on that, Therese, the shop owner said, "Mr. Carson's wife loves Olivina product, so he buys a lot of them."

Hearing it from Therese made Olivina a safe choice.  I paid for my Valentine's, lotion, and soap and moved away from the counter to spend some quality time with Spook, the Hallmark cat.

A few minutes later, the shy cap guy left with his card and lotion but no soap. Probably didn't want to appear overly committed I thought and then I thought, It's a damn good thing I didn't tell him about the vase of long stem red roses I'd purchased Friday.

I'd almost forgotten the incident until this morning when I read Caleb Pirtle's Valentine blog, Why Love Hangs Around So Long.  Then the Valentine conversation slammed back to my mind and I laughed.  The guy at the Hallmark Shop was playing volleyball and had already lost the game.

Thanks for the blog Caleb.  And thanks to my lovely wife, Christina, who plays one-sided tug of war and with me and who gave me two Valentine Cards, the messages on each went way beyond a wink.

Happy Valentine's Day Everyone 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

My Muse

My Muse - John

Last Sunday before the Super Bowl, I was poking around in the bookcase, looking for something to read until kickoff, when I spotted an old favorite, Bill Moyers'  The Language of Life . Bill and his friends are always good for a few minutes or more, of entertainment.  In this case it was more, much more.  And, it wasn't a poem that grabbed me.  It was a comment that Carolyn Forche made to Bill Moyers in their conversation before her poetry was showcased.  She said:

"I took advice from Flannery O'Connor who said you must take it seriously and sit down every day before your writing table and wait for the Muse to come.  If you don't keep your appointment, the Muse goes over to the next writer's house and gives that writer the ideas."

I read that and I thought of Caleb Pirtle, a writer friend who often talks about his Muse. Caleb talks about him so much he now has a bunch of his friends doing it.  I'm going to be honest about this, now, I thought it was just a bunch of bull.  Well, maybe not a bunch of bull, more like a gimmick, a hook, a writer's trick to keep your attention on the page.  That's what I was thinking when I read the highlighted quote.

I thought about it through the first quarter and then BLAM, SLAM, another thought crashed in... Just because you haven't met your Muse is no reason to think Caleb doesn't know and work with his.  With that thought still playing, another one slipped into the room... a question actually, "Are you going to be here when John gets here?"

You probably don't know this, but that was the catch line to a comedy routine made famous by Brother Dave Gardner on his 1959 album, Rejoice Dear Heart.  I had it on a 78 rpm record and played it until my mother knew the stories as well as Dave and me.  You can listen to the original recording here, but before you go, let me tell you what happened next.

I played the comedy routine through in my mind a few times as Peyton Manning and Cam Newton did their things, and suddenly, I got it when IT knocked me off the sofa and onto the floor - IT can do that to you, you know?

Like bother Dave's character, James Lewis, I hadn't stayed around long enough for my Muse to show up.  With that in mind, I reread what Flannery O'Connor said, "If you don't keep your appointment, the Muse goes over to the next writer's house and gives that writer the ideas."

I pitched a fit right there.  Caleb had two Muses.  Mine and his.  The nerve of that southern living Texan.  I calmed a bit, and Flannery whispered in my ear, "Honey, you were the one who didn't wait.  Your Muse had to go somewhere with those ideas."

I straightened and said, "Will he come to me If I go back and wait?"

She laughed, "Sweetie, we can't know that until you go back and wait."

With a toss of her head, Flannery left.  At halftime Denver was leading and I was waiting.  A tiny little bit of inspiration came floating in and asked, "Are you going to be here when John gets here."

I tossed it aside and said, I'll be here.

The halftime show ended, and the third quarter started the way the second had ended.  The door to my mind creaked open, and Travis McGee came in with an idea for a blog.  He explained it.  I told him I liked it, and he stood to leave.  As he turned toward the door, he asked, "Are you gong to be here when John gets here?"

"I'm not going to miss that," I said.  Travis left.

The fourth quarter started, and I began to believe that Denver might beat the odds and win the Super Bowl.  That's when my mind's door slammed open again.  This time two big guys and a dog they call Buddha came running into the room. I knew them.  Malcolm and Sawyer and their dog, Buddha, from my novel in progress, Moon on Water.  "It's time to get back to the book," Sawyer said, then he gave me an idea that took away the block that had kept me from the project for more than a month.

I jumped up, and started for the computer, when I remembered I was waiting for my Muse.

Malcolm laughed and said, "It looks like you're planning to be here when John gets here?"

I nodded and looked at Buddha who was sitting on the floor staring at me.  I asked him,  "John is my Muse isn't he?"

The big dog barked and the three left.  I watched Peyton Manning and 21 friends close out Carolina.

An hour or so later, still lying on the sofa, I felt a tremor in the air and looked across the room at the big easy chair.  John, a little out of breath, but with a beautiful smile on his bearded face, was sitting there, staring at me.

You're John aren't you?" I asked.

"That's right."

"John, according to the pictures and the mythology, you're supposed to be a topless woman."

"I don't do mythology," he said, through that pleasant, all-knowing grin.  "I'm your Muse."

I've been waiting for you."

"I know.  I got caught in traffic."

"What traffic?" I asked.

He smiled wider.  "The traffic in your head.  The traffic that, until now, has kept you from waiting long enough to meet me."

He cocked his head to one side, listened intently, then said, "Good. It's cleared out now. Let's go to work."

Sunday, February 7, 2016

On Death - The Philosophy of Travis McGee # 8

In case you are following the Travis McGee Series of blogs and you're wondering what happened to #7, it is here.   Three years ago I was running a Wordpress powered blog and for some reason, I can no longer remember, I added another one.  Before I started using the new one, I realized that Blogger (a blogging platform created and maintained by Google) is free and so much simpler to use.  In addition, at that time, but no longer, I could pay a small amount and buy my own domain name, in this case - so I did, and I've been using blogger exclusively until now.

One day last week, I received an email notice that my domain name, was expiring.  No one wants to expire or have anything of value that belongs to them expire.  So I renewed the name, checked the site, which is hosted by, and found it was working fine in spite of being way out of date.  Then I wondered if I could still operate a Wordpress site.  I thought, What the heck.  It's like an IQ test.  Give it a shot.  And I did.

Twenty-four hours later,  advised me that my domain, was going to expire in a few days.  I opened the long unused site and got caught in a blog I had posted three years ago called What Are You Reading, and I thought, Well, I've got one Wordpress site running, it can't hurt to have two... or maybe it was the old picture of me writing, in my hotel room in Hawaii, while a white pigeon, perched on the balcony railing looks on, that is on the home page of the site, which convinced me to renew and re-activate the old site.

Anyway, that's why I'm now operating one blog site and two web sites.  Feel free to sign up for the email versions of my blogs posts on each site, then it won't matter where I post a blog, you'll get it in your email in-basket minutes after I post it.

And now, death, which is the business of the day, or at least this Travis McGee blog post.  I've been thinking about writing a blog about death for a while.  Before you jump to a conclusion, I'm fine, still doing everything I ever did, just a bit slower than when I was at sixteen, thirty-six, fifty-six, or sixty-six, but I've discovered, as I slow down, that slow isn't always a bad thing.  Still, every sunset I celebrate brings me one sunset nearer the last one I'll celebrate, so I think it's natural that I should be paying more attention to the topic.

Years ago, when I first began seriously considering my death, I noticed I had no fear around the topic, just some ideas about how it should happen, or maybe I should say, how it shouldn't happen.  A lingering, pain-filled, fortune-draining, process isn't in my future.  I'm just not into long good byes, pain, or throwing away money for no reason other than the perpetuation of grossly inflated medical industry and its practitioners.

As I considered the subject further, I began collecting quotes and making random notes on my thoughts about death.  Things like my buddy and fellow Vietnam Vet, Dan Beck, said commenting some twenty years ago on the body cast I'd acquired as the result of rolling my Jeep to avoid hitting a dog, "Hell, that's no big deal Carson.  We've been on borrowed time since we pulled out of Vietnam."

And then there's the George Gurdijieff quote on death that I've loved since the first time I read it:  "Every one of those unfortunates during the process of existence should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death as well as of the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rests. Only such a sensation and such a cognizance can now destroy the egoism completely crystallized in them that has swallowed up the whole of their Essence, and also that tendency to hate others which flows from it."

However, as is often the case, it took Travis McGee to knock me on my butt and get me writing about death and what I thought of it.  Here's the quote that did it.

I sat on the tin stool, arms propped on my knees, and debated telling her. It is so damn strange about the dead. Life is like a big ship, all lights and action and turmoil, chugging across a dark sea. You have to drop the dead ones over the side. An insignificant little splash, and the ship goes on. For them the ship stops at that instant. For me Sam was back there somewhere, further behind the ship every day. I could look back and think of all the others I knew, dropped all the way back to the horizon and beyond, and so much had changed since they were gone they wouldn’t know the people aboard, know the new rules of the deck games. The voyage saddens as you lose them. You wish they could see how things are. You know that inevitably they’ll drop you over the side, you and everyone you have loved and known, little consecutive splashes in the silent sea, while the ship maintains its unknown course. Dropping Sam over had been just a little more memorable for Nora than for me. It would stay with her a little longer, perhaps." 

That's from A Deadly Shade Of Gold, the 5th in the 21 book Travis McGee series written by John D. MacDonald, originally published in 1965, five years after I graduated from Palatka Senior High School.  Now that I've seen that photo again, the fifty-five plus year old memories are flooding into my mind and with three hungry blog sites to keep fed I'll be sharing them with you.  Who knows what I'll be telling you about Inez, and Jackie, and all the others who are still eighteen as far as I'm concerned - you see, I've not been to a class reunion, so I don't know for sure they've aged.  That photo has probably been photo-shopped a little bit.  

So, what do you think of when you think of death?  Remember, as always, your comments are appreciated.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Dare - A Personal Pledge - And A Challenge

Martin Treptow

My friend, Tom Itsell, forwarded this video to me.  It was originally posted almost three years ago.  As of this morning, 1.8 million people have watched it.

Like you, I miss a lot of things worth seeing and hearing because they are lost in an infinite number of things that are neither.  So Tom, I owe you one for making sure I saw and heard this.

In this video you'll hear and see President Ronald Reagan.  From his first words, I was mesmerized by his presentation, but most of all I was enthralled by his sincerity.

In a world that has grown top heavy with empty machismo, sincerity is often shrugged off as wimpy, and that's why a collection of empty cans are leading in the current struggle for power we call presidential campaigning, and one of them is going to be elected.  No matter if you are Republican or Democrat, that should alarm you.

So here's the dare.  I dare you to watch the video and listen to the words of the last president we've had who didn't want the job for prestige, power, or money.  A man who sought and won the job known as leader of the free world simply because he wanted to serve.

In this video you'll also meet Martin Treptow, who pledged to himself, "I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost as if the whole issue of the struggle depended on me alone." There aren't many Martin Treptow's left in this country which was once filled with them.

Martin wrote those words in his diary as a reminder to himself.  After his death, they were adopted by the U.S. Army and became the soldier's pledge.  But Martin never intended his words to be a soldier's pledge.  They where his pledge to himself, a personal statement of who he was.  Martin Treptow was a man who took responsibility for his life, his choices, and his actions.  

The challenge.  Are you willing to follow the lead of Martin Treptow? Are you willing to take responsibility for your life, every part of it?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

I Have Some Things I Will Tell You...

The Storyteller
I'm not sure where it came from.  Not that it matters.  More often than not, I don't know where "it" comes from, or where it's going... all I know is what "it" is and I'm always glad it came this way.

"It," is a random thought.  That is, by my definition, a thought seemingly unconnected to my previous thought, current direction, or logical next step.  "It" just appears from somewhere unknown and unless I'm quick it is gone before I get a good look at it, much less pin it down long enough to jot a note or two about it.

I caught this one, held it for second, scribbled a few quick notes on the blank digital page which happened to be open, like it was waiting for "it."

I was at my writing table, getting ready to write my morning pages, thinking about the three chapters of Southern Investigation - Tucson  I will edit today, a blog post or two I should write, a long overdue letter waiting for a reply, when suddenly, unannounced and unattached, "it" flitted through.  A single line, followed quickly by a second, "I have nothing to sell you. Just some things I will tell you."

I recognized the words from a song I hadn't heard or thought of in a long time.  The Grand Tour.  A huge hit for George Jones, Aaron Neville, and many others. The lines that landed in my head this morning were from Aaron's version.

I have nothing here to sell you.
Just some things I will tell you.

What was that all about?  It was and is and always will be about storytelling.  Storytelling in all of its forms - tales we share with a friend or two, deliver orally to audiences, scrawl across a piece of paper, fold and  pass across a room or send around the world to a friend, or hammer into a book for anyone who might be interested.

Before we were anything else, we were storytellers.  In fact, storytelling is the oldest profession known to man.  Much older than the other one that might have come to your mind when I said "the oldest profession."

Storytelling drives the world.  I believe the universe is a story, and we're supposed to share our experience of it.  If that weren't true, why else would we all do it?

Step right up.
Come on in.
I Have Some Things To Tell You

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Three Amazing Women and One Old Redneck

Christina Carson

Christina Carson doesn't have a Wikipedia Page, yet. One day she will, when the right person reads Accidents of Birth Book One, or Book Two, or Dying to Know or Suffer The Little Children, or her current work in progress.

That's all fine and good, but as far as I'm concerned I will never need a Wikipedia Page or a one sentence mention on an obscure blog site, like this one, to find her.  I know where she is right now, and if you ask me tomorrow, or the next day, or the one after that, I'll still know.  Christina is my wife and I waited too long to find her not to know where she is at any given moment of my life.

Long before she became my wife, Christina gave up her position in a doctoral program in neurophysiology at UCLA and left the United States to protest the country's involvement in the War in Vietnam.  Twenty-eight years later, I found her in Canada and persuaded her to marry me and move back to the States.  We are a unlikely couple - redneck and scholar, Vietnam Veteran and Vietnam War Protester, American by birth and Canadian by choice... the list goes on but matters not.  What matters is the alliance works and it works very well.

Alice LaPlante
When we decided to write, we began collecting books on the subject of writing.  Through the
years, we've accumulated quite a collection of them.  We have Stephen King's book on writing and Ray Bradbury's and Al Zuckerman's and Jack Woodford's, to name a few.  Finally Christina found the best book on the subject, The Making of a Story by Alice LaPlante.  She told me about her find but it took a couple of years for me to get curious enough to pick up her copy and read the first chapter.  That's all it took.  Now I have my own copy thanks to Christina's introduction.

Sharon Olds
If you are a writer or aspire to be one, don't miss The Making of a Story.  You won't need another book on the subject and you'll quickly find a priceless bonus as you study with Alice.  She will introduce you to some of the most amazing writers and poets ever collected in one place.  From James Baldwin (first in the permissions section) to C.D. Wright (last in the permissions section).  In between Baldwin and Wright you'll find Larry McMurtry and Anne Lamott and the amazing poet, Sharon Olds.

I vaguely knew Larry and Anne but had never heard of Sharon until I read Forty-One, Alone, No Gerbil, in the second chapter of The Making of a Story.  So here I am, a 73- year-old redneck, hammering away at computer, something that didn't exist when I was born, assembling a story about a woman who protested a war I fought in, married me, then introduced me to a woman who introduced me to another woman who, in 2005, told Laura Bush, when the First Lady invited her to The White House, what I hope I would have told Lady Bird Johnson if she had invited me to The White House.  If you are curious about what she said, here it is:

"So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it".

That's my story for this cold winter night, the story of three amazing women and one old redneck who is a better man for knowing them.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bridges Across Space And Time

Memories are a major player in who we are and how we act and react.  Actually, memories, and our subsequent interpretation of them, is the player I'm talking about.

What I mean is simply this, everything that has happened to you is a factor in your behavior.  If that sounds overwhelming, it's only half the story.  In addition to the things that happened, the things you've only imagined are also factors.

Real or imagined, the effect of our memories are present in all our actions.  That's not necessarily a "bad" thing, or a "good" thing, it is just a thing, a factor in what makes us tick.  Memories can be relived, and they can altered.  There is a secret to doing that, and I'm going to tell you what it is, because you just might find it useful one day.

I'm going to ask the Hercules Air Crew pictured above to help illustrate my point.  By the way, they are the real deal.  The photo was taken in 2005, after they flew the first Hercules combat mission flown by an all woman crew.  Let me introduce them.  They are, from left to right, Staff Sergeant Josie E. Harshe flight engineer, Captain Anita T. Mack, navigator, First Lieutenant Siobhan Couturier, pilot, Captain Carol J. Mitchell, aircraft commander, Technical Sergeant Sigrid M. Carrero-Perez, loadmaster, Senior Airman Ci Ci Alonzo, loadmaster.

I found them when I was working on the first of draft of Southern Investigation - Tucson. The book is a novel, but I decided to use their real names without changing them.  I'm in the final edit process of the book and before I publish it, I'll get their permission.  Until then, the only changes for them are reassignment to the West Virginia Air National Guard and conversion of their Hercules, a cargo hauler, to a tanker equipped to carry fire retardant chemicals. Instead of working in Afghanistan, they are training in southern Arizona, after the plane's conversion.  There they meet the crew from my book Southern Investigation - Tucson.

When I write, my characters come to life for me.  I couldn't stop that process if I wanted to.  So, when the crew pictured above met the characters of the book, they came to life together and they still live in my memories.  This is the part I love more than words could ever explain - all I have to do is re-read a passage, and the book bridges both time and space placing me "on location" once again. Here's a living example:

The guys of Southern Investigation have had a closer encounter with the bad guys, a Mexican drug cartel, and they are making a run for the border.  The backup they had counted on in case things went bad, is too far away to help.

Here's what happens next:

...when I'd confirmed that no one had been injured in our forced landing, I began searching my mind for something amusing in the situation.  Something that would take away the fear that was growing by the second.  That's just how my mind works.  I didn't have to wait long.
     My handheld radio crackled to life and a female voice said, "Southern Investigation, this is Hillbilly.  It sounds like you guys could use some help."
    I didn't think, YES, help is on the way.  Instead, I instantly thought, "It is Tinker Bell.  Sid was right.  She is coming to save us." 
    I clicked the mike, "Hillbilly, Southern Investigation, what do you have in mind?"
    Major Carol Mitchell, call sign Hillbilly, responded, "Southern Investigation, go to your secure frequency."
    I changed radio frequencies, realizing as I did that Shirley or Faith Ann had given Carol the frequency.  With the radio reset I keyed the mike and said, "Southern Investigation secure."
    Southern Investigation, we just happen to have 3,000 gallons of fire retardant on board and we are looking for a place for a test drop it. Do you have a suggestion?"
    Before I answered, I glanced at Sid and David who were monitoring the conversation, and I whispered to them, "It's Tinker Bell.  She's here to save Peter Pan."
    "That will be me," Sid said, grinning like the lead boy from Never-land.

Here's the point:  I can explain the set up, to you as objectively as I can read tomorrow's Huntsville, Alabama weather forecast to you.  But when I read the actual passage, something magical happens.  I'm there, in the desert.  I feel the desperation of the moment and the joy when the radio springs to life.

Use a bridge to find and relive the passion in your memories.  It doesn't matter if the bridge is a song, a photo, or book.  They are all equally effective. Put the life back into your memories.  It's like adding water to your favorite instant drink.  Just stir and enjoy.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Philosophy of Travis McGee #6

Last Published Work 

This is a bonus Philosophy of Travis McGee blog.  I say that because the comments of McGee that I'm going to share aren't taken from one of the 21 Travis McGee novels.  In fact, they aren't from a MacDonald novel at all.  I cut them all from an essay he wrote at the invitation of Jean Trebbi, then Executive Director of The Florida Center for the Book.

The essay wasn't an easy piece for John to write.  When he completed it, he sent it to John Cole, then Director of The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress with this explanation for the delay.

"...the mountain has labored and brought forth a small, mangy, bad-tempered mouse of 7200 words... I could not make the essay work, and I could not imagine why.  I must have done two hundred pages of junk.  Then Jean Trebbi wrote asking why didn't I use the device of a conversation between McGee and Meyer.  Why indeed?... I am very sorry for taking so damn long."

In his Afterword, John Cole said, "MacDonald's dialogue between his fictional characters McGee and Meyer about reading was unlike anything I had read.  It is somewhat bad-tempered, but it also is thought-provoking.  Those who read it or hear it (or perhaps someday see it enacted) will remember it."

Reading for Survival is the last published work of John D. MacDonald.  The little bound essay is long out of print.  I found a few used copies listed on AbeBooks and Amazon.  I don't recommend them because they are both overpriced and in poor condition.Though they may be advertised as like new, the binding was cheaply done, and I promise you, it will fall to pieces. However, do not despair, click on the link at the beginning of this paragraph and in an electronic instant a digital copy in Word format will  reside on your computer.

Here are excerpts from the work to convince you the click will be worth the effort:

(Meyer) “Let us try to imagine a day in the life of Homo erectus one and half million years agoPicture him as a member of a hunting party, advancing through scrub land. He will be tense, using every sense. Aware of any change in the direction of the breeze. He will be listening, watching, scenting, with hundreds of dangers in his memory banks, thousands of experiences of the hunt in mind. He will have to have learned how to make weapons, learned a crude pharmacology, learned about fire, learned the vulnerability and the danger of many creatures, learned his place in his social order, learned how to fight other men, how to instruct children, how to build shelters. Perhaps, most important of all, he has learned that he will have to keep on learning and remembering or he might die in a very sudden and bloody manner, just as he has seen individuals of his tribe die when they forgot some essential crumb of knowledge.
            This is a demanding life. It is full of stress. And the key to survival is memory! That’s what takes up most of the room in our skulls. Out of memory comes the learning of relationships, and out of that comes creative change, improvements, reductions of risk. And there is a constantOWhhh selectivity at work. The inattentive child is eaten by wild dogs. The forgetful man is killed by the snake he should have seen. Those dull of wit are overwhelmed by the need to remember so many things, and so they perish and the species is improved thereby."

(Meyer) “Inevitably, Travis, man acquired so many artifacts he had to devise some way of keeping track of them. He had gone beyond the capacity of memory. The first writings we know of, other than the famous Code of Hammurabi in 1800 B.C., are records of shipments of goods in the Middle East. Pots and grain and tools. Writing and reading were elitist skills for fifteen hundred years and more, and then along came Johann Gutenberg in the fifteenth century with the invention of movable type. And that is when they began to fill the libraries of the world with the record of mankind, his tools, his history, his wars, famines, voyages, metallurgy, romances, superstitions, inventions…”
            Then Meyer did an odd thing. He reached across the table and clamped a thick hand around my forearm just above the wrist. I could feel the pressure of it. His gaze was very intense. “What we did to ourselves, Travis, within the past four hundred years, has been to make memory, as a key to the survival of the individual obsolete.” And now memory is not all that critical. I mean you can survive without having to remember much. Like remember to stop at red lights, take your pills, lock your doors. We don’t have to stalk anything in the jungle, or remember the shapes of leaves. So that takes away a big problem, doesn’t it?”
            “Does it create a bigger one?”
It is always irritating when he prods me, and sits back with his blue eyes alert and bright, waiting for me to pick up on the clues.
            “I’ll give it a shot. Okay. It must mean that a lot of the capacity of the brain is going unused. Are you saying it is going to atrophy?”
            “No. What should people be doing with that capacity?”
            “Give me a clue.”
            “There’s a clue for you in something Mark Twain said. ‘The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.’”

“How do we relate to reality? How do we begin to comprehend it? By using that same marvelous brain our ancestor used. By the exercise of memory. How do we stock the stores of memory? By reading, Travis. Reading! Complex ideas and complex relationships are not transmitted by body language, by brainstorming sessions, by the boob tube or the boom box. You cannot turn back the pages of a television show and review a part you did not quite understand.

“I would not demand that a man read ponderous tomes, or try to read everything—any more than I would expect our ancestor to examine every single leaf on a plant he remembers as being poisonous. I would expect that in his reading—which should be wide ranging, fiction, history, poetry, political science—he would acquire the equivalent of a liberal arts education and acquire also what I think of as the educated climate of mind, a climate characterized by skepticism, irony, doubt, hope, and a passion to learn more and remember more.”
            “How many of those do we have these days?”
            “A pitifully small percentage of the race, and growing smaller every year. Sixty million Americans, one out of every three adults—according to an article I read recently in Psychology Today—cannot read well enough to understand a help-wanted ad, or the warning label on household cleaners, or an electric bill, or the instructions on a package of medicine. They are disenfranchised, completely cut off from any knowledge of history, literature, and science. And because they can’t read they become negative role models for their children, who, in their turn, will become a new generation of illiterates, of victims.”

“Beautifully said,” I told him.
On the way back I told him that he had made me feel guilty about my frivolous reading fare of late, and what might I read that would patch up my comprehension and my conscience at the same time.
            Meyer thought about it until we had our drinks. He took a sip, sighed and said, “I’ll lend you my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror.”
            I am halfway through it. And the world has a different look, a slightly altered reality. That fourteenth century was the pits!

Note - I added the link to A Distant Mirror - and though I'm not yet half-way through it, as McGee was when he had the conversation with Meyer, I also recommend it.