Living Outside Boxes

Everyone knows I love movies. I have been intrigued with and entertained by movies since before I can remember. It is a passion born from mostly my mother who also loved movie going. I’m often quoted by my wife who likes to mimic me by saying that “I even love bad movies because at least they provide an escape from reality for two hours.”

My background in law enforcement draws me to suspense and action movies but my overall nerd-ness loves all things technical too – so you can imagine what my favorite genres may be.  But since I turned 50 and my testosterone levels have plummeted to levels deeper than Raquel Welch did in the 1966 science fiction film “Fantastic Voyage” (look it up Jon), I’ve noticed that the increasingly sensitive side of me is starting to totally dig the chick flicks nowadays.

I have this amazing memory of my mom taking me and my siblings to see a double-feature film at Harding Mall in South Nashville when I was 10 years old. It was “Barbarella” (Jane Fonda) and another movie called “The Groove Tube” which was Chevy Chase’s low budget film debut. I don’t know what my mom was thinking at the time but I think it must have been one of those duh moments because she only let us watch about 15 minutes of the second feature before jerking all of us up by the collars and getting us out of there.

I distinctly remember the film sequence that instigated our hasty exit; a mock public service announcement for venereal disease that covertly used a real penis made-up as a man’s face as its actor-spokesman. Yes, a penis with a mustache was talking to the camera. At ten, I didn’t fully understand all of the 15 minutes of sexual innuendo but I knew we were watching something we weren’t supposed to be watching which is pretty damn cool if you ask me. I still laugh about that all the time because we had brought along my next door neighbor Wayne and I wonder today if he has the same memories I have.

One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is the testing scene in the beginning of the movie “Men in Black”. To refresh your memory, let me sum it up as follows:

Will Smith’s character (who later becomes Agent J) is in a room with other candidates so the MiB can supposedly find the proverbial best of the best candidate for the MiB job opening. The candidates are all men from either military academies or elite law enforcement and are squeezed into tiny egg-shaped chairs that barely contain their bodies.

They are each given an exam booklet which is sealed in fragile paper that tears easily and a pencil. As they all scrunch up in their pods, twisting, wiggling, crossing and uncrossing legs to find comfortable positions for holding the booklet and writing at the same time, Agent J – after breaking his pencil while trying to open the envelope – stops, looks in front of him, and sees a more traditional looking table across the room.

SCREEEEEEECH! The otherwise silent and sterile room is filled with a deafening noise as Agent J drags the heavy metal table across the floor toward his egg chair. The other candidates shoot him some ugly eyes while trying their best to concentrate on the test while Agent J, oblivious to an unwritten decorum, makes himself comfortable to take the test. He repeats this type of abhorrence to all things status quo later when at the firing range.

At the firing range, these same best of the best candidates have no problem at all accurately shooting all the monsters on the targets but Agent J shoots the little girl instead. When Zed (Character played by Rip Torn) asks J “May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?”, J responded with something like this: “When I saw little Tiffany, I’m thinking, y’know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of the night with quantum physics books? She about to start some shit Zed.”

In that scene, Will Smith thought outside the proverbial box and instead of following what everyone else was doing. He was not afraid to literally make some noise, free himself from tradition or modesty, and do something bold that may help him achieve his goals. The situations he was placed in were structured to the point of absurdity, which is an exaggerated reflection of how complicated we tend to make life in general when we could just as effectively do things more simply. In J’s view, being quiet and conforming to others’ tin-soldier mentality only hindered his ability to accomplish the goal of passing the tests. His ability to think asymmetrically turned out to be his strongest quality.

Now if you are rolling your eyes at the phrase “thinking outside the box,” I completely empathize. The phrase has become trite and jargony and has an honored place on the list of most overused clichés and axiom’s by teachers and professors, which includes but is not limited to (yes, there are others) “seeing the forest for the trees”, “learning to think like a businessman”, or “An ounce of prevention…”, you get the idea.

Personally, I’m more moved by axioms which make you think rather than one’s which tell a commonly known truth such as: “99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name”, or “Madness takes its toll – please have exact change.”, or “It was recently discovered that research causes cancer in rats.”. But stripped down to its core, “thinking outside the box” says in four words what I believe to be the key to success in almost any venture as well as general happiness in life.

To me, thinking outside the box means not blindly following conventional wisdom as well as challenging assumptions about yourself, others, and the world around you. It is a shift from conceptual frameworks and paradigms to free-flowing uninhibited thought that challenges all common perspective. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t educate yourself with all that old-school knowledge, it’s just a theory that examines and explores the things unsaid rather than the things said.

We live in such a heavily controlled environment. The restrictions placed upon us do much to stymie our creativity and our ability to think freely. Perspective and perception are also powerful governors of our minds. We often view reality through narrow lenses sculpted, polished and honed by years of experience and education. But is my reality the same is your reality? In some cases yes. To you and I, red IS red and the number 4 IS the number 4. Those are constants nationally and worldwide. But what about the organic and obscure? Are we looking at the same things in the same way and coming up with the same conclusions? I doubt it.

If thinking beyond this proverbial box is so great then why do so many people encourage (or implore) you to color inside the lines, follow the rules, and stay inside the damn box? Well they are either inside the box themselves and not sure how to get out, are afraid to get out, or even worse — they are actually selling the box.

People often disagree with me about these things, citing the importance of their specific life anomalies, and I am often prone to accept the reasons they espouse because I have the heart of a teacher not a preacher. But the reality is that most of these people are simply afraid. An example of this is that in my car, while alone, I believe I’m an accomplished singer…but I’m too afraid to demonstrate just how great I am in public. Is that a fear of performing or fear of revealing how much I suck at singing?

I don’t know; ask Emily, she’s probably heard a few subtle A Cappella moans and some interesting intonations happening on long drives in the car before. Fact of the matter, I will likely never sing to anyone in public – ever. It’s just not something I’m willing to let out of my box, even though me and Michael McDonald sound identical.

Well, except for that time in Germany on a Rhine River cruise with friends Rob and Rachel. Rachel is a huge karaoke fan and begged me to sing a song. I reluctantly agreed after a long tumultuous series of offers to buy various desserts.

When the moment arrived and I drug myself to stand front and center for my performance, I whispered to the DJ to que my chosen song, much to the anticipation of my wife who was paralyzed with dread. Then the song “Tequila” started playing, you know, on and on without any lyrics.

Everyone was so confused; why wasn’t the redneck from Tennessee singing? Then, with one collaborative sigh, the whole ship finally got the joke as I confidently sang out-loud the one and only lyric…”TEQUILA!”.

That “box” for those whom are afraid represents all that is stable and controllable and accepted. I get it. I really do. I could sing one word, but to sing a legit whole song would have taken a level of something-something I just don’t possess. I understand that the box is rigid and sturdy and comfortable. But, it is still a stupid box and I know of no one who can truly spread their wings and fly inside a box.

You can paint the box and decorate it and bedazzle the box with rhinestones or Harley Davidson stickers or whatever it is that you enjoy but at the end of your life, you will move from that one beautifully decorated box to another simpler and more tasteful box. But will you have really lived?

Ask Bruce Jenner what he thinks about living in boxes. For him, his life was always about making the rest of us comfortable. His outer box was covered in rustic leather and had spikes and beer stains and cigar burns all over it. But the inside of his box looked somewhat different I suspect.

I’m not suggesting the “box” is about gender or sexuality at all, but I’m neither saying it is not. I think the box is different for everyone and the same rules apply no matter what is in that enigmatic box. The box can contain a multitude of things that have the effect of holding you back in life or in situations.

It’s just as important to recognize that your box might contain the elements of shyness as it is to recognize that your neighbor’s box is full of Pollyanna. Both qualities can hold you back from achieving goals but for entirely opposite and unexpected reasons only relevant to that one person.

Look, I love plans of attack and guidelines and goals and milestones and all those things you have read about, and yes, in some areas of life there are definite paths that must be followed to reach a specific destination — i.e., you are not going to become a doctor without going to college, taking the exam, going to medical school, passing your boards, doing your residency, etc.

But overall, never underestimate the value of thinking outside the box, figuring out your own way to get from point A to point B, and trusting your instincts along the way. Heck, maybe you don’t even have a point B in mind yet. No problem! Think of your current lack of a point B as already being outside the box. We can be sure that people like Michelangelo, da Vinci, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg never knew a box existed.

And look, while thinking outside the box can certainly be about sitting down to solve or approach specific problems, it does not have to be. In fact, I like to think of it more as a way of life. Writing down your ideas or making a vision board is never a bad idea but there is something about saying it out loud that makes an idea sound really stupid or really profound. Don’t be afraid to bounce ideas off the chests of friends but don’t be afraid to execute a really strongly held idea just because that trusted friend doesn’t have the same vision as you.

Be forewarned, however; sometimes when you operate outside the box, people look at you funny, make not-so-nice comments about you and your actions, and maybe even tell you that you are crazy for doing what you are doing because, oh, I don’t know, you are not making any money at it; or, people won’t like it; or, you’re making people uncomfortable; or, you will never get anything out of it anyway; or, no one else cares but you; or, you are too old; or, you are too young; or, you are not being serious enough to really achieve anything… so what is the point?

Well that is just the thing and the most beautiful part of living outside the box, even if it’s just from time to time. Sometimes we do not immediately know the point when we venture outside our boxes. What is the point of doing as you feel? I don’t know, perhaps it is just because it makes you feel good, and what is the point not to do it?

Sometimes, thinking outside the box can produce challenges to those around you who’re used to a much less complicated version of yourself.

Sometimes a small spark of interest ends up turning into a passion and perhaps then into a new life or career. Or maybe your life becomes enriched with a lifelong love of a new author, subject, art, or activity. Or maybe you develop amazing new friendships that remain long after that particular dalliance outside the box is over. Or maybe your time out of the box is special just because it was time out of the box, and there really is no point besides that. You’re going to grow as a person regardless of the reason, the activity, or the point.

And besides that, there is nothing more stifling and frustrating than feeling boxed in, and that is because we are not honoring that part of ourselves that wants, that needs so desperately to get out. In 2016, I was feeling like I was in a box. A box of social and political correctness. The box grew more and more confining as the accepted conditions of my career held me back from engaging and being myself.

So, after suffering as much as I could stand, I decided to leap outside that box of political correctness and even beyond my own normal social boundaries and resolve my situation in the only way my life has trained me to do. Was I right to do it or wrong? That is a matter of perception for others but for me there’s no question that I did the right thing?

So what this blog is really saying, I suppose, is that thinking or living outside the box is not about what others think and it’s not about what’s good or comfortable for everyone else. Living outside the box allows you to shed the layers of social acceptance and just be the person you need to be at the moment.

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

Pablo Picasso

Creativity comes from peeling away the things which quintessentially make us adults, and instead, looking at situations and life from pure naiveté. Living and thinking outside the box is just a cliché way of expressing that same thought. When we strip away those latticed layers of conformity, maturity, shame, rationality, power, ego, reciprocity, and emotional clutter, then we can harness those crumbs of ingenuity floating around in a sub-consciousness that is much less chaotic.

I’m stepping outside my box right now. When I express my inner thoughts about life, love, parenthood, or politics, I’m pushing my own self-imposed boundaries of the first 50 years of my life. While I’m nowhere close to inventing an Alfred Hitchcock character like in the movie “Vertigo” nor could I possibly do justice to a character like Russell Crowe played in “A Beautiful Mind”, what I can do is articulate the things that keep my mind busy when put into a square room and asked to administrate black & white procedures all day.

My sister Lisa is an amazing artist. She principally works in the medium of portraiture. But what makes her amazing is not how accurately she can replicate a photograph. What makes her amazing is how she can so intricately produce what she see’s in her head – which could be quite different than how the rest of us see things or people. Lisa can create something entirely original and yet be instantly identifiable as the same thing, only in her own language. I

’m not an artist so I won’t attempt to impress you with a science or vocabulary I know little about, but I think the secret of anyone’s success is an ability to be bravely put forth your product, different as it may be, and own it. It’s your thing, your voice, your identity all mixed up as an ingredient inside your vision of the world around you. Own it.

For myself, I had one little dalliance out of my own box a few years ago and now here I am carving out the next half of my life, only differently and more deliberately. Maybe the lyrics from “Carry on My Wayward Son” will never resonate beyond the confines of my Chevy truck but the lyrics of my life and my thoughts will resonate in words on some digital cloud somewhere forever. Absent that one baby step, you and I wouldn’t have met.

When is the last time you stepped outside of your box?

Power Brokers of Personality

Personality is a curious thing. Where do we get our personalities anyway? Are we merely homogenous mixtures of our parents; does our DNA play a role? Or, are we simply carbon sponges – borrowing influential bits and pieces of identity from everyone and everything around us as we go?

If personality is strictly a family DNA affair, why aren’t we reading about Charles Manson’s parents instead of just crazy ole has-been serial-killer Charlie? If we’re simply selective sponges, how would you explain the occasional similarities between the personalities of parents and children – even when some of the characteristics aren’t necessarily favorable? Personality, no doubt, is a complicated and fascinating subject.

Intelligence, just like personality, is also a quite difficult matter to put your finger on. Some books lean more toward nature (predisposition) and others to that of nurture (learned). It’s a pretty well-settled argument that a person’s intellect is a product of both of these things but to what extent? My parents could have supplied me with the most fantastic, bestest ever DNA on the planet but if those supposed great genes were never nurtured and cultivated with kindness, personality, education and experience, I’d just end up being one of those socially awkward and useless brainiac; a big-brain-no-game type. Certainly not the pinnacle of expressiveness I’ve become, right?

Take myself for instance, I love words. I’ve always loved words. As a child, I would regularly read the dictionary and thesaurus just to learn new words and to see how those words interacted with or held similarities with other words. I have no idea where that interest comes from as no one else in my instant family has the same level of curiosity with words and writing. Not that my siblings aren’t artistic and intelligent in their own right, they certainly are those things.

But my very favorite things in life are words and old maps and perhaps mac-n-cheese. My Achilles heel, however, is numbers. Numbers and mathematical equations have never been friends of mine. My mom is super smart. I’ve been told she has an IQ of 160. But mama is one of those types who loves numbers and formulas and good scotch. She might love words too, I don’t know, but she certainly doesn’t outwardly exhibit signs of being a word lover.

My dad, as far as I know, was neither a fan of numbers or words. He had a love for drawing, maps, fried green tomatoes, cigarettes, and oyster stew. Unfortunately, one of those things killed him at much too young an age. I never really got to know much else about him as I never knew him as an adult. He died during the most selfish period of my life, teen-dom.  

Between the three of us, we’d probably struggle to formulate a decent dinner menu, but there are distinct similarities that have been promulgated within me as a result of my embryotic journey. Some of which, I’m delighted to have gotten for free. Other not so pretty chromosomes, I’d love to set free. Free to a good home, slightly used chromosomes.

My personality more closely resembles that of my mothers’, but I clearly see little parts of my dad peeking back at me in the mirror from time to time. Plus, I do love old maps and fried green tomatoes. The curly hair? Well, that was my grandmothers’ gift or curse, depending on what day it is. All that hot wind just to say that I am definitely not a carbon copy of anyone.

What about siblings you say? I was just about to mention that. Yes, I have three and we’re all very different. I’d love to go into more detail about my family peeps but this here blog is about me, right? So, lets expose them one at a time as they do weird things I might want to write about. Or instead make a pact not to reveal each other’s adolescent misadventures over a glass of our mother’s scotch.  I think I’d prefer what’s behind door number 2.

What about our parental responsibilities in the development of our children’s personalities, work ethic, citizenship, responsibility, honesty, etc.? I mean, I’ve been down the road of parenthood myself and somehow survived. How effective can our lessons really be, and did our influences change the outcome of their personality? I think so. If a good portion of our personality and intelligence comes from nurturing, then of course each experience a child encounters will contribute to the child’s overall world view, as well as the decisions he or she makes when its their turn to make choices.

I don’t believe that anyone can be the parent they truly aspire to be. That is, if you aspire to be great at it. We may come close; you may even achieve a certain level of trust with your child that looms enormously large in their minds. And if that’s the case, good on you, but there’s a big responsibility that comes from having adult children who idolize an imperfect parent. You can rarely live up to those sorts of ideals and eventually their world will come crashing down when they realize you’re just as confused as they are.

We often see identity as an immutable object, a thing that we possess, and a force that we are possessed by. But as we go through life, the roles that we fill – dutiful child, rebellious teen, doting parent – are more than just clothes that we can put on and take off at will, but facets of who we always were, facets that lay hidden only until we need them to surface. I mean, who would have known that I would be expected to love Hockey?

Well, those latent skills still lie latent somewhere deep in my psyche, never having found the right potion to wake them up. But when you suck, just be a good actor. And, much like actors, we may seek out certain parts, but all too often, the parts we end up playing are given to us as much by circumstance as by our own decisions, so that the Introvert is suddenly thrust into the spotlight while the Extravert is left moving scenery backstage.

I’ve learned through the experience of writing this that around 40% of our personality is stemmed from our inherited genes. This according to Dr. David Funder, Psy Prof, U of Cal – Riverside. This leaves lots of room for considerable amounts of influence from environmental factors (i.e., where you live, cultural influences, life experiences and exposures). If you happen to carry a certain gene that affects serotonin, you may have a higher risk of depression and anti-social behavior, but perhaps only if your childhood is marked by severe stress or maltreatment.

It’s kinda crazy to think that even the most level and sane among us may carry a gene or even sets of genes that could have made them bat-shit-crazy; but, because they might have had good parents, the bat-shit-crazy part never surfaced, and the town-hero part was cultivated instead. Somewhere are a bunch of cats rescued from a tree by a fireman all knowing that the same fireman could have just as easily been one of those cat killing types…except that his dad told him he loved him and, of course, those important words fixed everything.

Even identical twins have different personalities. Twins will share 50% of several different personality traits. Fraternal twins will share 30% of several different traits, and non-twin siblings also share around 30%. More interesting to me, however, is that non-biologically related children raised by the same parents share around 7 %, which demonstrates just how powerful influences, home, neighborhood, opportunities, friends, and social status can affect someone’s personality.

Scientists haven’t isolated the genes that might carry markers for all personality traits quite yet. But we do know that genes work together with other genes to influence their expression. It could take several different genetic combinations for a child to develop a certain personality trait. Genes can switch on and off again, due to several different factors – sometimes because of genetic influences. Genes can also affect chemical messengers such as serotonin and dopamine, which both have a profound effect on the brain and can influence personality traits such as anxiety or shyness.

It’s just unimaginable to me that one could ever truly master the science of genetics, especially as it relates to personality and intelligence. As hard as my tiny little brain tries to wrap itself around every kernel and crumb of personality science, life experiences will do a cannon ball in the gene pool and change the genetic recipe all over again. All this uncertainty makes me think I should have picked a less complicated subject to write about, perhaps next time we will talk about cheese.

All I’m thinking right now is, my poor, poor parents. What a complicated game of “Taking a Turn in the Cabbage Patch” these two novices were playing and didn’t even know better. They might have been safer playing Russian Roulette. I mean, let’s get real; these tiny little helpless creatures we’re producing are complicated as hell.

I mean, you pay too little attention to your children or the opposite, become overly protective – not realizing how each path you take can impact the grown-up people our children become in totally different ways. While mothers are the ones who most often get blamed for the insecurities and character flaws of children, it’s actually the fathers who play a bigger role in a child’s personality.

According to the latest research, children are likely to pay more attention to the parent in their lives which they perceive as having the higher interpersonal power or prestige. In a good number of families, not in all cases, the parent who most often fits that bill is the father.

My experience was just the opposite. My father was a hard worker and a supervisor at his mostly blue-collar profession. But my mom, a white-collar professional with accolades, accomplishments, and power, was the one I looked up to most. My mother is incredibly smart but somewhat aloof. She’s not a nurturing sole, she’s a pragmatic and sensible spirit with a high dose of I-don’t-give-a-rats-ass.

My father, however, was from a more modest background, was extremely well-liked and gregarious with his friends while my mother was from a slightly more sophisticated social circle and a bit more urban. My mom worked early in their marriage but like most mothers of the 1960’s, she stopped working when she started having kids.

That went on for quite a while because she was having kids for quite a while. She didn’t work a job again until I was about five years old. When she decided to do so, she hit the ground running and was a rockstar among females in the corporate world, breaking barriers and glass ceilings way before people referred to them as glass ceilings.

I think she got so much attention that it scared my father to death. He really struggled with my mother’s successes in sales so there was some serious pressure from within the marriage for my mom to change professional directions. She eventually left the career she loved and moved into a position in finance. Something she was also great at, but, of course, a job she didn’t really enjoy.

 Even after that move, she was still a rockstar. About a decade before her retirement, she was a corporate controller for a fairly large office furniture company in Nashville. The company she worked for was purchased by a Canadian company and announced it was moving to Quebec. She was asked/invited to move to Quebec in order to secure her position. My mother refused to move with the company, choosing to stay at home in Tennessee. So, instead, the company offered to pay for her to travel from Nashville to Quebec every week.

My mom traveled like that until the day she retired, at least a dozen years or so later. She was clearly an integral and important figure in that large corporate environment. So, while it’s easy to write nice things about a parent or tell folks how smart they are, it’s not always easy to find an example, such as I just did. My mom is a difficult person to get to know. But despite her general aloofness, she has always been a rock star to me.

So contrary to the experts, it was actually my mother whom I perceived as having the higher interpersonal power and prestige – not my father. So, of course, my mother is to blame for all my character flaws…uhm, just kidding mom. Well, maybe some but certainly not all.

Another thing the “experts” say is that simply spending time with your parents can help an individual develop better social skills and higher levels of confidence. You hear that Jon? Let me say it again in case you glossed over the previous sentence. The “experts” say that simply spending time with your parents can help an individual develop better social skills and higher levels of confidence.

This positive effect on our kids is deemed especially strong in studies when time is spent with the father. It sounds like the experts are working for dad, huh? However, it is also said that too much praise and attention is linked to the development of narcissistic personalities. Apparently, we should never tell our children that they are better or more special than other children. It’s far better to simply encourage positive behavior and acknowledge that they’re capable of high achievement – just like so and so.

So, just like most of my blogs, we don’t really learn as much about others as we learn about ourselves. I mean, when you think about it, what can we do to change or affect how other people interact with us? We can’t! So, I think its more important that we take what we learn about life and cultivate a better self with it. In the end, all we have is who we were. But, just maybe my son will want to take advantage of the newest opportunities science has to offer…spending time with dear old dad.

100 Million Miles

The whole world it seems has been impacted by the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic which has left many of us with a good bit less to do; we’re either working from home, laid off or furloughed from our jobs. And Lord knows we have all watched a great deal more television than normal; at least I know Emily and I have. Maybe the world will get lucky and we’ll all become a tad bit better informed as a result.

I guess though, that really would depend on whether we’re spending our television time watching shows like 90 Day Fiancé or the more informative stuff like Discovery Channel. As far as I know, there has been no official announcements or directives from Dr. Fauci as to which programs we’re supposed to be watching…at least not yet anyway. Me being the chameleon I am, I generally watch all sorts of unrelated stuff, but always devouring lots of information TV along the way.

One thing that has been quite noticeable about my life from a safe-distance is that I haven’t written as much lately. You’d think a fella like me who gets off on writing silly stories about nothing would write more often when given the opportunity. I guess, like a lot of people who enjoy writing, I began to wonder why I do it and who really gives a damn. I just wasn’t really all that motivated to just dig in and create.

What I’ve decided, at least for myself, is at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter who gives a damn as long as I do. And its not even like that really; writing is not necessarily something I feel called to do nor do I have an important story I’m itching to tell. There are just times when I get an idea stuck in my head and it amuses me to tinker around with the idea at the expense of your time and available brain cells.

Writing for me is that exploration of thought. It is a silent journey I take alone then later translate into something entertaining or thought provoking for others to share along with me. When people respond or “like” what I’ve decided to share, it somehow makes me feel more centered with the universe. I instinctively know that other people out in the world are thinking about the same things or are at least get what I am saying.

Last week I was watching one of my favorite shows and I heard, yet again, that our sun is almost 94 million miles away from Earth. That translates to about 150 million kilometers for my European readers. How many times do you think I might have saw or heard that same information while in school or in my general life over the last 55 years? I can’t say for sure but I’m confident I’ve come across it several times and never really cared all that much. I mean, what does that have to do with me, really?

But, for some strange reason, the thought of our sun being that far away from Earth really struck a chord with me. I started to think about all the light and heat energy emanating from it and how powerful that energy must be in order for it to have such a strong impact on us, nearly 100 million miles away.

Universally, my mind wandered around to what life would be like if Earth had just landed one million miles different, nearer or farther, than where it this ended. Would Earth have the ability to sustain life as we know it if we lived just a million miles closer or farther away in our solar system?

Something poignant sprang to my mind for the first time. That was: nearly a hundred million miles from here, deep in outer space, is an enormous sphere of hot plasma and fire producing enough light and heat energy to vaporize pretty much everything, yet, by the time all that energy gets to us, it’s perfect… it is just right!

How many of you out there got married before you were mature enough to know how to be a good spouse? I count myself among all of you for sure. It’s an unfortunate statistic but we all want things we’re not ready to have. How many of you had a driver’s license before you were mature enough to be a safe driver? I could go on and on, right?

But when I think about how I got here, to this exact place where I am today and the path I took with all of its crooked roads, potholes, dead ends and roundabouts, it seems quite unlikely that I would have landed right here in this exact place. And when I analyze my wife’s life under the same lens, and formulate all of the things that did happen, didn’t happen, were supposed to happen, etc., and how it all ended up with us together and happy for so long. It kinda blows my mind. It it worthy of a blog; I think so?

I’m not suggesting that either of us are perfect or “just right” for anyone else, I’m just acknowledging what we both know, that we’re just right for each other and probably wouldn’t have been if we’d met each other 10 years prior. Just like if our sun were a million miles closer, we might have crashed and burned.

I won’t pretend to understand or even analyze karma or fait or divine intervention. Maybe they are all the same thing, I don’t know. But there is an order about things in this world that defies our ability to know every answer or formulate every hypothesis. Some things just happen because they are supposed to happen. Consequently, some things are allowed to happen to us because we can’t grow if we’re allowed to self-insulate ourselves from the kinds of pain we must learn to endure if we intend to be happy.

I know this is way too early for a birthday card, so I have made it a blog instead. But I’ve learned the hard way; when inspiration hits you, it is always the right time to say something that needs to be said.

Writing is literally my only superpower. Its easy for me to express myself with the written word but I’m not a naturally expressive person in my daily life. So, in my open life, I’ve learned to say nice things when I think nice things. Otherwise, I never say enough nice things.

Saying and expressing the type of kindness my loved ones deserve to know hasn’t always been something I’m great at doing. I’m analyzing my weaknesses by writing about them and doing my best to let others really know who I am by making an effort to do better.

If you have things you really want to say, I encourage you to do the same thing. The people who count on you, psychologically, will be able to let things go and move forward when they have confidence in your support and understand who you really are and just how much you really love them.

This journey of life never ends, no matter how short yours may end up. Think about it. I often think about what my great grandfathers were like. I have sat in a restaurant in Wales, eating fish & chips, that was once my 12th great grandfathers’ home. Thousands of ancestors grace the pages of my family tree. These people, long since dead, are still part of my life and their energy will continue to radiate in my own story if I allow their voices to be heard; but its my choice isn’t it?

If we’re going to live forever, we may as well be known for saying kind things. It’s a very long road to travel but seemingly shorter and shorter with every year that passes. I’m comforted to know that no matter how far away you go, no matter how lost you seem to be, there’s a very good chance you will end up in exactly the right place.

That is precisely what happened to me. I started off so far away from where I am today. I’ve been happy, sad, emotionally drained and on top of the world. I have failed and succeeded; I’ve contemplated life elsewhere; and, I’ve overstayed my welcome when I should have moved on. But through every experience and around every curve, I have managed to survive long enough to land right here in this exact place.

Likewise, the energy from the sun is immense; it’s far too untamed and powerful to experience close up. While it is almost hundred million miles away, it only takes 8 seconds to get from there to here. The gap between the lives Emily and I lived were, it seemed, impossibly distant and likely incompatible. But here we are, a hundred million miles traveled, scarred, bruised, broken, duct-taped and put back together.

And yet, finally…just like the sun’s energy, everything is just right.

Should We Be Here? Humanity’s Obituary.

One of my many interests in life is the field of genealogy. I’ve been delving into the woodpiles of my family story for over three decades now and I’m still just as excited about the journey as I was when it all first began. I find it incredibly fascinating that modern technology has given us the tools to collate vast amounts of historical and ancestral data that we’re now able to trace our direct ancestors back hundreds or even thousands of years with relative ease. On top of all that and with the addition of DNA analysis, we can find distant cousins in obscure places across the globe, then assemble individual family records to sort of reverse engineer parts of our family trees otherwise impossible to unravel.

My favorite of all our vacations has thus far been our trip to Wales. During that trip, we were fortunate on one day to have our lunch in a 16th century pub named the “Old Swan Inn” in a tiny southern Welsh village called Llantwit Major. The significance; that pub once was the ancestral home of my 12th Great Grandfather Sir Robert Ragland (b. 1510 d. 1565). Just the ability to know that is super cool; but actually visiting and dining there among the same broken plaster walls, hand-hewn beams and squeaky wooden floors that my distant ancestors also experienced cannot be adequately described.

There were, of course, lots of other interesting and genealogically important places we visited on that trip, but I don’t want to bore you with the history of my maternal ancestry. I just wanted to share the one part of it that I think supports the overall gist of this story and get you thinking about the possibilities that lie ahead of you should you begin pursuing your own family story.

Not all the things I think about in my quiet moments are appropriate for every audience but there are a few thoughts I often have that I don’t mind sharing. One is this idea of how incredibly miraculous it is that any of us are actually here today. When you really sit back and delve into the odds, its unfathomable that we could be here by mistake. When I talk of odds, I mean the obstacles our forefathers and mothers endured to be able to pass on their DNA to us. You and I are the children of the sturdiest, smartest, luckiest, healthiest, strongest, fastest, surefooted’est group of men and women ever born. If they weren’t all these things, we surely would not be here today.

I guess, what brought about all these ideas is my insatiable appetite for history. I love to read. Lately, I’ve gotten interested in the history and evolution of Celtic and proto-Celtic peoples as they spread themselves through early Belgium (Gaul) and Germany (Germania), through the beginnings of a country we now call France (Frankia), then onto the island of Britain (Britannia) and across and up into Wales (Cambria), Scotland (Alba) and Ireland (Hibernia). That is, of course, not the only way humans made it to the islands and areas well-known today for their Celtic inhabitants; just their most prolific path.

This journey, as is the case for every tribe of humanity, was and is affected by a plethora of circumstances and decisions that shaped the future of these people. Some of which they had no control over and some of which they did. Either way, hundreds of millions of people gave their lives along the way, learning and evolving and becoming more disease resistant then passing down that new knowledge and those priceless immunities to their children and grandchildren.

That seams easy to say and read doesn’t it…hundreds of millions of people. Unfortunately, it does even for me. If I were not the author of this story, I might myself roll my eyes at someone talking about hundreds of millions of people. But, when I’m done here, I hope that you think twice or three times about the scope of what it really means to be you and be me.

Just think for a minute about the many things our humanity has survived: famines, plagues, natural disasters, religious inquisitions, and wars. Let’s look at plagues for a second.

Plagues: When you add the deaths brought on by Malaria, the Black Death, Measles, Smallpox, the Spanish Flu, the Plague of Justinian, Tuberculosis, the Bubonic Plague, the Antonine Plague and AIDS, you’re talking about nearly 7 Billion deaths. That’s close to the current (2019) population of the entire planet and about 22 times the population of the United States. There were literally villages in the middle ages that were completely wiped out by plagues. The bloodlines of entire families were wiped out in some cases.

If your family happened to have been one of the victims of any of those plagues, you literally would not be here today. There would have been about a 50/50 chance that you wouldn’t. But your family and my family were made of good stuff…the best stuff; so here you are today playing video games and getting your news from blogs, all so very thankful and mindful of the sacrifices made before you that allow you to simultaneously hold the high score in Donkey Kong AND Super Mario Odyssey for 2 years straight.

But seriously, what would our planet look like today had all those deaths not occurred? The human experience is complex. From massive amounts of death and destruction have arisen new antibodies and disease resistance that helped to carry our ancestors, the ones with the strongest immune systems of their day, on to reproduce and evolve further.

War: If we examine the aftermath of war, which by the way is incalculable, and break it down from Ancient Wars (549 BC to 450 AD), Medieval Wars (534 AD to 1487 AD) and Modern Wars (1494 AD to 2018), it is a scary picture indeed. Ancient Wars took about 60,000,000 people from us. That is not including the spouses and children who died from starvation as a result of the death of their soldier husband/father or the death of civilians when villages were pillaged. Medieval Wars took another 90,000,000 people. Modern Wars, however, have taken more than 465,000,000 people out of our gene pool.

By combining just the known casualties of recorded war acts, the numbers are staggering – more than 600 million people. But the reality is that there has always been war, much of it unrecorded. Entire peoples, languages and cultures have been eliminated by war. Remember the song lyrics, “my baby she’s a Chippewa, she’s a one of a kind”? Well, the tongue and cheek humor in those lyrics aren’t so funny if you’re a Chippewa, except, there are no Chippewa left are there?

Religion: Religious persecutions, insurrections and inquisitions have been quite the DNA altering influences as well. More than 10,000,000 documented people have been intentionally and quite gruesomely murdered at the hands of various religious sects, orders, church’s, etc., in the absolute belief that God instructed them to do it.

It’s amazing to me that even an evolved and otherwise healthy human mind can be influenced to believe and to justify the complete intolerance of another’s beliefs and ideals. We see militant religious intolerance to this very day from every nook, cranny and political sphere known. There are some human conditions for which no cure could ever be invented – because perhaps we don’t want really want to be cured.

Famine: Famine is not something to sneeze at in our world history either. Just in China alone, widespread famines have taken the lives of over 80,000,000 Chinese family descendants. Russia too has a long and painful history of famines; the cumulative effect of which numbers close to 21,000,000 people.

Just think for a minute what it would have been like to live in either China or Russia during any of the dozens of separate national famines of those era’s. I remember news reports from my teens showing thousands of Russians standing in bread lines to get rationed food. These are not just historical era problems from a more barbaric past. Famines are also current events.

When the widespread push of Communism was spreading through Western Europe after WWII, the U.S. and its Allies were just as concerned about famine and hunger as they were about totalitarianism. People were dying by the millions. The U.S. alone spent more than 13 Billion dollars on foreign aid to western Europe from 1948 to 1951 in order to save lives.

Ethnic Indians too have lost nearly 60,000,000 people to famine over their recorded history and Africa has lost 20,000,000 just in the 20th century alone. When you look at famine deaths worldwide, it’s not difficult to figure out that we’re pretty darn lucky that our particular ancestors were somehow able to survive to leave us this healthier legacy – the importance of which we may or may not have figured out for ourselves.

Natural Disaster: Along with all the other drama and dysfunction happening before we existed, our poor forefathers also dealt with other issues you may not have thought about. Our planet has endured 5 separate ice ages, thousands of earthquakes, volcano eruptions, banana peel falls, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, asteroid collisions, pterodactyl attacks, mud slides and who knows what all else. I have no way of calculating the total deaths and migrations associated with the ice ages and it would be impossible to account for the historic numbers of people affected by the other events I mentioned.

I think though it would be more than fair to assume that millions and millions of our ancestors have been eliminated from our genetic heritage as a result of natural disasters. If you’ve ever been fortunate to visit the ancient city of Pompeii on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, you’ve probably met what’s left of some of these unfortunate ancestors in person.

So, for those of you who’ve not been keeping up with the score, we’ve passed the current worldwide population (7 Billion) by over 8 hundred million people. This unfortunate fraternity of humanity, I’ll call the Friends Without Benefits Club, are an anomaly for sure. Many of them never had the chance to pass on their DNA, but we know they made enormous contributions to our survival that will never be fully appreciated as we mostly have no names, books, statues or poems from which to memorialize them.

These were not just heroes of their villages and cultures who sacrificed themselves as soldiers in order to keep their family’s DNA safe. These folks were also the guinea pigs of early humanity who donated their existence to a science that was not yet knowable.

When you are at your lowest moments and you question why you are here or whether anyone would care if your gone, think about all the good karma that saw to it your existence was even possible. Even my dog has a reason to be here. None of us are accidental. None of us are incidental.

And when you begin to feel the pains of intolerance to anyone for anything. Step back a second and remember how radical intolerance begins. It begins with justified intolerance. Sometimes a justified intolerance for people who have a justified intolerance toward you and your ideals. Said differently, they may think you’re just as weird as you think they are.

Try instead to cultivate the grace within you and recognize that everything in this world has its own time, and perhaps…just perhaps, there is a very good reason things are the way they are. Time is temporary. Be patient and tolerant and it will soon all change.

A Perfect Parent

My brain has been rattling around quite a bit this week over the subject of parenting so I thought I might help myself understand the subject better if I put my thoughts down in writing. I can at times be a tad bit introverted so I have a tendency, when left to my own devices, to wonder around aimlessly inside my own head thinking about various things like this. Ya’ll already know that about me but why not jump aboard this train with me to see where it takes us today?

Of course, it’s a bit absurd that I of all people would attempt to explain what a perfect parent is to anyone else being that I only did it once and I don’t think I was particularly great at it. That said, this is not necessarily a blog about how to be a perfect parent, it’s more of a letter to myself about the complexities of parenthood and perhaps an elaborate excuse for me sucking at it. You’re more than welcome to make fun of me if it helps you feel better about your own misspent time in the saddle.

I hate to summarize my entire blog in the third paragraph for obvious reasons. So to better ensure that you will want to continue reading this thing to the end, I will spice up my summary with what may be considered a controversial idea for the times in which we’re now living – the crazy idea that no one person could ever be the perfect parent.

This late-in-life recognition comes from multiple realizations. The first of which radiates from my own personal experiences; second, from outside observations; and third, from the school of life. It’s the worst kind of school to go to, it has no monkey bars nor a recess.

I am an individual person with my own set of natural abilities, inclinations, habits, beliefs, deficiencies, and proclivities. There are certain aspects of parenting that my specific skill sets and personality are great at. There are others that I completely suck at. But that’s just me. What about my child? Wouldn’t it make sense that he would also have that same sort of complexities and individuality that I have? What if his personality learns in a different way than I naturally teach? What if his personality feels and expresses differently than I’m capable of emoting or comprehending?

Of course, two people can meet, be attracted to each other, fall in love, get married, sit on the same toilet, get pregnant and produce a child together without any idea of how to be parents. Both people could theoretically have the same personality quirks, strengths, weaknesses, etc., and possibly be completely incapable of supporting the other parent in any way. It could happen.

But, it is far more likely that each parent will have a different and separate set of skills and faults, each somewhat supporting the deficiencies of the other parent. Logic says that at least one parent will have some innate ability to jive with their child but that two will have at least some parental synergy and thus help the child benefit from what each parent has to offer.

Can any one individual parent be both a stern and strict enforcer of rules, standards, and family traditions and also provide an unstructured environment that provides for freedom of thought and creativity? Can one individual parent be so well-rounded as to share in their child’s perspectives and allow them to indulge themselves in a creative world without bounds but also exemplify the importance of politeness or respect of others/elders – with an intolerance of public unruliness? Personally, I’ve never known one person who can be all those things.

It’s far more reasonable to believe that one parent will always naturally fall into one role and the other parent will fall into the opposite or a somewhat different role. Having two parents with two distinctly different personalities better ensures that children grow up with a broader perspective and wider range of skills, abilities, comprehensions and emotions.

Parent Traps

I’ve characterized the following parent types into Little Rascal characters. Maybe you fall into one of these and maybe you don’t. I’m in no way attempting to describe all parent types, just enough to make my points.

Spanky

Spanky parents are naturally playful and warm and love to see their children excited, playing in and experimenting with the world around them. Encouraging this playfulness and growth by always suggesting activities and lessons can really leverage the super powers that very young children have when it comes to the speed at which they can learn. These parental types will embrace and encourage their child’s productive interests as they arise, sweeping away dolls and dinosaurs when interests shift to the oceans, and eliminating the plastic fish when tastes change again, to the stars.

All that wonderfulness aside, this Spanky type of parent may be unlikely to have the heart to establish normal limitations themselves. They don’t always recognize the value of structure and predictability. Their entire façade is built on the premise of infinite and limitless possibility.

Do you remember the Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy where Sandler (Sonny Koufax) was a law school grad – too lazy to take the Bar exam but who adopted a boy to impress his girlfriend? My most prominent memories are the kid pissing in the living room corner and how Koufax never made the kid take a bath. The kid became the stinky kid at school because Sonny Koufax was a Spanky dad.

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Froggy parents are more analytical. Parenting, like so many other person-to-person relationships can be quite difficult for analytical people as you can imagine. If you’re a person who’s heavily invested in rational thought, logic, and analyzing causes and effects, you can be woefully unprepared for dealing with a little person who hasn’t quite yet developed these same abilities. Froggy struggles with simple communication because he’s incapable of coddling or having light/insignificant conversation.

Froggy may be the most rational person in the world but utterly fail in overt displays of physical affection or emotional sensitivity. He certainly has important skillsets that children need to be exposed to but on a personal level Froggy has an inability to convey those skills without the assistance of another parent who is much more emotionally available.

Froggy is otherwise a person of many talents. Froggy definitely has glasses so we know he/she’s smart and if given an opportunity, and genuinely wants to pass on his/her many talents to the little tadpole(s) at home. It’s not for a lack of want, it’s a lack of self-awareness and instinct that keeps Froggy from being the parent he/she really wants to be.

Stymie

Stymie has a mantra of “hard work, tradition, and respect”. In many ways, Stymie is the classic 50’s era father figure although Stymie could just as easily be a mother – it is a classic genderless name and perfect for a 21st century blog character. The problem with Stymie’s are that they are often standup, perfectionist type folks and they expect their children to continue the examples they’ve already set. It’s difficult for kids to live up to these exceptionally high expectations but of course the ones that actually do live up to those standards sort of prove that it’s a good parenting style, right? Maybe.

The sort of parental inflexibility that Stymie parents are known to have, if left to their own devices, can become quite a challenge for a kid who is growing into their more naturally rebellious adolescent years. The challenge is almost greater for Stymie, not the kid.

Stymie parents enjoy creating secure, structured, stable environments, and consider it an affront to have those considerations rejected which is what adolescents are famous for doing. Insubordination is not particularly well-tolerated by a Stymie and I sort of get that. It is a very difficult thing to raise a child these days and it never hurts to feel some appreciation for all the efforts you’re undertaking.

We all understand that accountable parenting is a responsibility, not an option, but (always a but) not everyone does, or wants to, or feels the need to, or is willing to do the right thing and it feels damn good to hear your child express some understanding and gratitude for those efforts.

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Buckwheat is artistic and adventurous and fun-loving. Buckwheat loves hands-on activities and hobbies that further develop an artistic talent or boost a child’s social awareness. But, when it comes to things like saving for their child’s college education, our Buckwheat would turn straight to oatmeal without a partner whom is much better at taking care of those sort of things.

Buckwheat’s are, however, full of empathy and awareness: a bedrock of emotional support. Buckwheat’s will never bullheadedly tell a child what it ought to do, but instead, will help them to explore all options and encourage them to follow their hearts and instincts. Those are awesome qualities and any child would be fortunate to have a Buckwheat parent. Naturally lacking structure, focus, rules and stability, Buckwheat parents also fall short of perfection.

Butch

We all know Butch. He’d occasionally steal Darla away from Alfalfa with his obvious swagger but if Butch and Darla were to have children, I think Butch would do well to put a ring on Darla and keep her around. Parenting is difficult for Butch. Not a naturally sensitive guy, he struggles to identify the raw emotions and irrationality that are often the standard with young children, who have yet to develop the sort of self-control and logical thinking that someone like Butch takes for granted.

Butch has no interest in raising children or managing anything other than his work or his golf game. Butch parents are likely to allow their children to enjoy lots of freedom to essentially raise themselves, allowing them to form their own principles. Butch is rational, intelligent and is engaged once the children are older but there is hardly a clumsier example of a supposed provider of emotional support for children and pre-teens than Butch.

Lots of little boys grow up trying to emulate their Butch dads. The control and confidence Butch naturally exudes can be a powerful magnet for a child to emulate and confidence is a great attribute. But a lack of emotional connection with daddy Butch can leave some children feeling like they don’t measure up.

Porky

Oh-Tay; let’s all move on. Porky is the quintessential yes man. But all that ass-kissing has made Porky want better for his kids. Porky wants to teach his children how to be effective in business, impartial and logical. Porky believes that his kids should understand the difference in what is most effective versus what makes you feel good.

Porky is passionate about raising his kids with business skills and leadership ability but his approach leaves him emotionally inaccessible. He’s all about teaching strong values but he believes these values come from deep understanding, not blind trust. Discipline doesn’t necessarily come naturally for anyone but it’s a particularly challenging subject for Porky.

Porky’s standards are so high for himself and his kids that when confrontations do happen, Porky wants to frame the life lessons as archetypes of morality. If his kid rebels against it, it’s seen as a rebellion of morality because that’s how he framed it – thus Porky wants to dig in his heels and refuse to bend.

Porky is a complicated person. He can be a great parent but can smother his kids with ridiculous expectations and leave them searching for acceptance. I’m thinking George Von Trapp meets Maria. George (Porky), bullied by the Nazi’s feels emasculated. He wants better for his kids so he’s disciplined and direct. Maria swoops in with her nun outfit, teaches his kids to sing, and they live happily ever after.

Alfalfa

If you’re an Alfalfa like me, you’re probably struggling to manage your own emotions in a healthy way, let alone trying to manage a childs’ emotions. I’m analytical for sure but not super analytical, such as a Froggy. I would definitely define myself as a true hybrid type – one quarter analytical, one quarter emotional, one quarter artistic and one quarter zombie (Spanky/Froggy/Buckwheat/Stymie/Butch/Porky).

I would say that my analytical side is usually what wins out. As a result, I tend to mostly avoid “unproductive” strictly emotional conversations, and instead take a solutions-based but slightly emotional approach to resolving most problems. Example: I never once spanked my child without first having an intellectual discussion over why it was necessary. Then, once the matter was resolved intellectually, I teared up and did the dreadful deed.

Words and ideas though, are my strongest assets – assessing a dilemma to find the underlying cause and developing a plan to solve the problem at its source. That said, I can at times be highly emotional. You just may not know it – that’s the zombie part of my personality.

A disconnect is found between what I’m able to feel and what I’m able to express. Although I think my emotional side is highly developed – there are no visual cues as to what I’m feeling. You’re laughing right now that I’m calling myself emotional, I know it.

Alfalfa’s like me try really hard to always do or say the right thing but our emotional logic doesn’t always translate. Think of children like tribes of indigenous peoples of undiscovered islands. They speak their own language and have their own unique culture – Heathens and savages if you will. Children won’t always cooperate and allow you to use all your best dance moves. Emotion and Logic, when combined, can sometimes make a profound difference.

What happens when all your great logic is ignored and you’re also an emotional person? Well, I can say that it is usually one of two scenarios: I either have a great conversation and things seem to work fine, or, the shit hits the fan and I use a barrage of unintelligible curse words strapped together with other curse words that I use as adjectives to connect a multitude of curse words. Then I play my Black Sabbath record backwards.

In an attempt to call upon my finely tuned emotional assets, I try to engage the emotional gears and the clutch suddenly won’t work. Frustration comes into play because it’s obvious that my brain is failing me. As long as there is no stress, my emotions seem to work just fine. But when Cortisol is released into my zombie veins, the emotions quit working and all that’s left is either logic or pathologic.

My typical style has never really been to just to tell my child what to do, but to instead to prompt him with logic to use his own mind so he arrives at some well thought out conclusion. I learned a long time ago that my child is far more independent than I, and that’s saying a lot. It makes no sense for me to tell him anything. He’s going to listen to what I’m saying and form his own opinions regardless of what I say. If that doesn’t work, I write a stupid blog and hope he reads it.

The Problem with Perfection

As you can now plainly see, there are a lot of parent personalities out there in the real world. Way more in fact than I could ever dream to know, much less understand. Some parenting styles seem more positive on the surface while other styles have a slightly uglier exterior. All that aside, when you really look beneath the thin façade of parenting styles, all knowledge and input has its place, and all systems – no matter how involved or logical, will eventually fail on their own weight if given enough time – because children mature and change and we typically do not change along with them.

Empathic and open-minded parents really are awesome for any child to have. But there’s a downside of the empathic and nurturing parents; our children eventually become adolescents. When children approach their teenage years, all this free-flowing emotion and attention can start to feel cloying and excessive to them. At a time when they are wanting more privacy and independence, you’re still smothering them with lipstick kisses and tickets to Disney On Ice.

Disney on ice

This is a time when the most nurturing of parents are challenged the greatest I think. They have strong emotions and invest those emotions heavily in their children. As adolescent children begin to withdraw, parents sometimes have a difficult time even recognizing themselves. They’ve spent so much energy and focus on being a good parent, it leaves them wondering if all that energy even worked. Will my child have benefitted from all my affection and attention or will that shitty kid I hate down the road have more influence on him than me?

I think life is often the best teacher. As a parent, I think I was fairly liberal, allowing my son to have his own adventures and make his own decisions, to further develop his critical thinking skills. This isn’t to say that I was necessarily lenient – rather, I expected him to use his freedom responsibly, and I theorized that the weight of this expectation alone was enough to lay out some understood ground rules.

When needed though, I was fully capable of communicating openly, sternly and honestly. I just preferred not to replicate the belt-whooping thing my own dad made famous. Did my seemingly more rational approach work? I guess the answer depends of if you’re asking me if he felt the weight of my expectations and made good decisions OR if he/we learned something from the experience. I think he mostly didn’t always make great choices but I’m certain he benefited from the experiences.

And, to be fair, there were times when all that freedom left me blindsided. Not that my parenting style was necessarily bad, it was just insufficient by itself. It took other people to point out behaviors and events that otherwise I may not have noticed. Most of the time, I would be in complete denial as to what was happening. My son had a pierced ear for weeks before I learned about it. Hint: If your child is wearing a stocking cap over his ears in the hot summer, there might be a clue inside the cap Colonel Mustard.

Sometimes, people/parents like me overthink things a bit. When you rationalize my parenting style with pure logic, it all makes sense. The problem is that there’s no logic to raising children. Each child is different and each parent’s ability to communicate is different. No book or blog can teach a person how to be a great parent. To be a great parent, you just have to want to be a great parent. Then later in life, when you get old like me, your children let you know whether you were or weren’t.

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Answers?

The most important thing I think I’ve learned from this exercise is just how limited we all are individually. We’re only good at a few things and we always suck at something. It only makes sense that our children are going to grow up so much more well-rounded when they have two parents mentoring them daily. That doesn’t make it fool-proof, it just means that they will have a much more solid footing if they know, spend time with, and are parented by two people.

That said, four parents are better and six parents are even better than four. Typical families no longer make the effort to maintain close distances and bonds with extended members, grandparents and such. When I was a kid, we spent a tremendous amount of time with our grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles. There was this thing that families used to do annually called “family reunions”. I know it sounds odd today but people really did use to have fun spending time with dozens of extended family members eating from covered-dish dinner menus.

If you want your kids to witness the incarnation of culture, take them to a family reunion where there are 15 different versions of mac-n-cheese. Literally every family matriarch has her own recipe. Every single time you bite into a new mystery meat or crazy potato recipe, your first thought is either, “I love it”, or “Believe it or not, there’s someone in this building who is literally jonesing for this nasty ass stuff”.

I realize that it took me more than 3,500 words to tell this tale and I’m not so sure anyone learned anything, including me. But the gist of where I was going with this is that far too many people believe that children do just fine with one parent. And, maybe some do. But don’t you think that they’d do much better with two?

Spanky believed in his He-Man Woman Haters Club and was quite upset with Alfalfa when, after skipping the HMWHC meeting, he caught Alfalfa and Darla macking behind closed doors. But, Spanky would go on to find out that he was being a little short-sided on the subject of woman hating. We all mature in our thoughts eventually.

If you want kids and you want to do your best to provide them with all the tools they need to succeed in life, do your very best to find a partner that wants the same thing and whom will be a reliable, active and present member of your dream team. Sometimes things just won’t work out, divorce is a fact of life. But think twice before selfishly attempting parenthood alone when you have the option of doing it as a part of a team. No one can ever be a perfect parent alone.

Foes

Thank you Fate for all my wonderful foes. Am I being facetious? No, not really. I won’t lie though, I do wish everyone would like me.

Am I all that different from the rest of you in that regard? I really don’t know the answer to that, I’m just assuming that the desire to be liked is consistent among all of us.

I will say that it definitely hurts my feelings when I find out someone doesn’t like me, especially when it’s someone I respect or someone I’ve invested a lot of myself into. In retrospect, however, what could be more inspiring or motivating than an outright enemy or competitor? They keep us sharp don’t they?

People without foes cannot imagine the passions that burn within those of us who do – the fire being constantly kindled by people whose only real goal in life,  it seems, is to subvert the goals of others.

A wise older man told me once that “most people don’t care if you do well, they just don’t like it when you’re doing better than they’re doing.” If you count yourself as a hard worker, a creative type, detail oriented, a smart cookie, or maybe just lucky as hell, someone out there is going to hate you for whatever it is that sets you apart or is perceived by them to elevate your status above their own.

Thankfully, the laws of selection have likely killed off a good bit of that asshole DNA over the life-span of humanity. Our “old school” ancestors weren’t as obliged to take as much lip as we are these days and swords aren’t as readily accepted as a part of daily dress as they once were.

But despite all that early character-cleansing activity, there’s still some decently pathetic people out there continuing to fertilize prick-eggs. They just keep coming. Just because one may die, you’re never going to be out of the woodwork. If you are a do’er or a leader or a facilitator – there’s always another sniper out there ready to put you in his/her cross-hairs.

Batman-Villains-2-600x400

The jealousy gene is present inside all of us, especially me. If I meet someone who seems to have it all together, living the easy life, I’ll admit that I sometimes feel a bit of jealousy. For a fleeting moment, not really knowing the back story of that person, I unwittingly think that I want what he or she has.

The key words here are “seems” and “think”. But not everything is always as it seems. Our jealousies are oftentimes out of sync with the person’s real life – perhaps they’re living a life that we wouldn’t want for ourselves at all – we just haven’t seen it naked yet.

Some people, though, have a jealousy gene which is Enormously Dominant. Let’s just call this condition E.D. for now.  These people are genetically engineered to feel threatened by another’s outward successes. They are so consumed with jealousy that they actually believe that your successes (big or small), undermine their own abilities.

Maybe they believe you will be favored or loved more than them. Perhaps they have a tinge of mental illness – your popularity or success emasculates their own self-perceptions. These folks are driven to try and derail you. It’s not personal, it’s their E.D...

dr-evil

We’re really never going to know the exact reasons why these insecure folks will sell their souls to undercut your efforts, or why they are drawn to careers in selling school supplies; we just have to recognize them for the value that they bring to our lives.

Haters don’t necessarily hate you, it’s far more likely that they actually hate themselves. You become a reflection of what’s missing in their own mirror and a painful reminder of their own inadequacies.

To sum it all up, backstabbers and haters are not going away. If you lose one, you will get another. Why not elevate their status in a way that brings about positivity instead of stress? First learn to recognize them, then learn to appreciate them for the challenges they help you overcome. Perception is reality, they say.

FOES

Thank you Fate for foes! I hold mine dear

As valued friends. He cannot know

The Zest of life who runneth here

His earthly race without a foe.

I saw a prize. “Run,” cried my friend;

“’Tis yours to claim without a doubt.”

But ere I half-way reached the end,

I felt my strength was giving out.

My foe looked on while I ran;

A scornful triumph lit his eyes.

With that perseverance born in man,

I nerved myself, and won the prize.

All blinded by the crimson glow

Of Sin’s disguise, I tempted Fate.

“I knew thy weakness?” sneered my foe,

I saved myself, and balked his hate.

For half my blessings, half my gain,

I must thank my trusty Foe;

Despite his envy and disdain,

He serves me well where’er I go.

So may I keep him to the end,

Nor may his enmity abate;

More faithful than the fondest friend,

He guards me ever with his hate.

W. Wilcox

When the Levee Breaks

I don’t know about you but I often catch myself drifting away from the present with random unrelated thoughts. Many times those random thoughts evolve into blogs just like this one. Just as often though, my brain might be interrupted by some random Led Zeppelin song lyrics or stupid childhood memories or even grilled cheese sandwiches. I should probably donate my brain to science.

Having significant hearing loss, I probably don’t always hear what I think I hear. As such, I hope I’m not always held 100% responsible for some of the things I think I’ve heard throughout the day then later regurgitated with some “slight” differences.

The combination of my incompetent little brain, malfunctioning ears, and fifty-plus year-old eyes means that you never know exactly what you’re going to get from me. The saddest thing of all is that half of these blogs could literally be reactions to problems that never existed in the first place.

I can’t, of course, possibly know how many other people drift away like I do but I have to assume that everyone does it or else I might feel like I’m embarrassing myself right now. It helps me to imagine that for the most part, there’s really only one thing that distinguishes my random thoughts from anyone else’s. That would of course be the arrogance with which writers assume that some other person(s) might actually be entertained by their stupid stories.

One thing I can’t seem to let go of lately is the feeling I get when I hear various people espousing their political views. Political divisiveness is not new, it’s just different, louder, meaner and far more inflammatory than I’ve ever seen before now.

Today, it’s definitely en vogue to feel utter hatred for political candidates and it’s far more common than uncommon for the media to inundate us and indoctrinate pure negativity and bias than ever before. The divide between Walter Cronkite and Sean Hannity or Dan Rather is like the Grand Canyon; they’re not even in the same industry.

A quick example: in the 60’s, we didn’t choose our news based on its political bias matching our own. It was just called “news” and everyone trusted it to be “news” (drops mic).

Disclosure: I consider myself to be an extremist moderate. I’m dead in the middle socially but with a fiscally conservative slant. I’m one of those weirdo’s who think we should do everything we can afford for our elderly, invalids, and handicapped and provide a temporary, not permanent, leg-up for those of us who are having a hard time for any reason.

I also believe we should be able to afford whatever it is we’re trying to do for people and if we reach a stage where we can’t, we should cut something else less important from an otherwise balanced budget. I do not believe in creating tremendous debt like the situation we’ve been in now for decades.

There’s an overwhelming feeling of obviousness to me that others don’t seem to share. If roughly half the citizens of the country support one party and subscribe to its core beliefs and roughly half the citizens of the country support the opposite party and subscribe to its core beliefs then logic should dictate three (3) very obvious things:

  • The majority of the members of each party are not as far away from each other as they think;
  • There are very smart people on both sides of each isle so you cannot rule out that each could potentially have good arguments in support for their beliefs; and,
  • There being a wide range of differing levels of intelligence, socio-economic, gender and regional demographics making up the members of each group, we must assume that there really is no specific right or wrong answer to all political ideology because examples of each have positively and negatively impacted each group’s members to the point where each respective groups’ members want to fight about it.

There are incredibly wealthy democrats and republicans. There are incredibly poor democrats and republicans. There are incredibly smart and dumb democrats and republicans. Each group’s members, despite what you hear on television, are essentially made up of the same types of people and both groups make up nearly identical halves of the registered voters in this country – the middle swinging from side to side depending upon the platform du jour.

Said differently, what happens to be the right thing today might not have been the right thing in the past nor the right thing in our future. Generally, most people actually find themselves situated somewhere just left or just right of this imaginary line of right and wrong.

Regardless of that center majority, each party is pushed to try and convince its supporters to pick a side and to do their level best to scare the dickens out of those people to the point of polarizing everyone.

Hmm, What about that Led Zeppelin song, “Good Times Bad Times”? Is it just me or is anyone else confused about the girl leaving him but then he says they will never part?  

Good Bad Times

People pick sides because they fear the extremism represented on both isles – which is the very thing the opposition wants you to know about the other side. The world and America, in particular, is organic – not fixed.

We are learning the effects of yesterday’s political decisions today and tomorrow our children will be learning about the choices our elected leaders are making today. It’s our children who are left behind to clean up our mistakes and it’s our children too who are left behind to ride whatever wake of success that trails behind us.

This country has rode enormous waves of prosperity and it has suffered the hopelessness of economic despair. When the country has suffered, we’ve risen to the challenge by creating safety nets. When the country has soared, we’ve invested in infrastructure and added chairs to the table.

Along its way, this country has matured and altered the way it treats and represents its citizens. Maybe not everyone of course, but enough to steer the direction of the country nonetheless.

But, regardless of any of that, we should not be surprised to discover that people will always be left behind. No society is perfect and no society, however determined it is to be perfect, will ever be.

We cannot make policy on the fallacy that it will perfect that which cannot be perfected. There is a balancing act between economic prosperity and opportunity for entrepreneurial investment against the weight of humanity itself. If you concentrate on civics then you lose on economics. If you focus on economics, benevolence takes a second seat. It is the way of things.

There’s this Led Zeppelin song, “When the Levee Breaks”… I love the drum groove in that song. John Bonham was an awesome drummer! Oh, sorry. Let’s get back on track.

FeatImage-Bonham2

One problem is that ALL of us are horribly but perfectly made to be biased. It is a human survival mechanism. Our brains are simply wired with greater sensitivity to unpleasant news than positive news.

Our capacity to weigh negative input more heavily than positive input most likely evolved for a good reason – to keep us out of harm’s way. From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger.

The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, respond accordingly. All well and good in the jungle but having a brain apparatus super-sensitive to negativity means that bad-news bias, at work in every sphere of our lives at all times, can alter our realities to the point of insanity.

If you want comedy, OK, how about some bad-news biased comedy. You want news, no problem, here’s some negative news for you; you’ll love it. How about dinner conversations based upon biased bad-news learned from every source except the real one?

One half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans left and the other half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans right. We’re tuned in to institutional bias rather than being tuned in to each other. If we’d just listen to each other, we’d find that we’re really not all that different.

Whatever is said or done by a person from either political party, the reporting agency will edit and peel away the things that doesn’t fit their agenda and emphasize the parts that do, sometimes completely out of context. Whatever gets your attention sells. For the media, that’s all they really care about. Real news can be boring – you can’t run a profitable business trying to sell real news anymore.

As individuals we generally, but not always, will have two opinions about everything. The first opinion we have is the one that we never or rarely share with anyone. That opinion is how we truthfully feel about any given situation.

The second opinion we will have is our public opinion which is carefully crafted not to offend and generally, but not always, exactly aligned with our given party. Then, of course, there are those with only one opinion.

Just so we’re being straight up with each other, if you always only have one opinion on every issue then you’re probably too ignorant to vote. Just sayin’.

Oh well, I don’t want to put a bustle in your hedgerow but people really need to get a life these days. Whatever is happening in Washington D.C. whether there’s a democrat in office or a Republican, you’re not going to be allowed to know enough about any given subject in order to form a logical opinion anyway. The media is only going to report the part that sells the most copies and they’re going to seriously spin that small part of it in order to sell a few more.

The issue itself will be so heavily marred in red tape so that you could never understand why it happened that way and the facts will be muddied by the existence of classified elements which you cannot possibly be told.

You’re going to be provided with a smidgen of details which are painted and embellished to the point where it no longer resembles the truth. Therefore, your opinion, no matter how eloquent your delivery, sounds completely stupid to the people who actually do know and possibly brilliant to those others, who like you/me, don’t.

“Dazed and confused for so long it’s not true…Lots of people talkin’, few of them know”. What is it with the melancholy chords anyway? Do you think Led Zeppelin members were doing drugs back in the day or were they like Nostradamus – like, foreseeing the future/present? Hmm.

R.214 LED ZEP PAGE VIOLIN BOW

In the end, none of us are really qualified to question what happens in the District of Columbia. We can have opinions as to whether liberalism or conservatism is a better or worse solution for any given set of circumstances but we’re never going to really know the whole truth about the other stuff. Yes, yes, there are always signs on the wall, but you know sometimes words have two meanings.

Legitimately, either direction can be the right direction depending upon the specific set of circumstances. Likewise, neither direction works as a system in and of itself. Too much a good thing is never a good thing.

Push liberalism too far and you get communism; push the right wing agenda too far and you may pull a Nazi out of the bag. The powers are made to be balanced because they need to be balanced in order for our country to work as it was engineered to work. We’ve seen the atrocities committed by both polar extremes – so who wants to give up prosperity and freedom for either of those two bullshit alternatives?

There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven. I don’t know her personally but I can tell you that if she’d just focus on the area somewhere between the stratus’ of gold and pot metal, she might make a better investment. It is so easy to deceive.

Smear on a little paint and spike it with a little lead and voila. Viewed from a distance the pot metal looks just like gold and it weighs the same too. That is the lure of political parties but it’s just a façade. It’s never exactly what you think.

There’s an enormous effort from both sides of the isle to convince you that their path is the true stairway to heaven. In my world there are lots of stairways and many correct paths. Gold too, is not just an element on a periodic table. It’s a condition, it’s a place, it’s a relationship, and it’s a state of mind. As Alaskan’s are fond of saying, “Gold is where you find it.”

Stairway to heaven

If there’s one thing I could convey here that I hope will resonate with people is that we should try and respect, not necessarily agree, with people who don’t share our opinions. We’re losing our ability to show respect to others who may be different.

Deference is no longer fashionable. I want you to respect my views/sexuality/race/identity/etc., but it’s completely unfashionable for me to respect you in return. This one-way street of acceptance will, if not cured, incubate a future filled with hate and intolerance all over again.

If you are allowed to hate me, I am within my rights to hate you back, right? Isn’t that the way of the world today? I would hope that we’ve moved beyond that particular stage of humanity, or is it inhumanity?

On one hand our society has done a great job of learning to embrace people who look or act different, but we’ve completely lost our ability to embrace people who think different. Today, we celebrate differences on television and in movies and even parades. Kids who feel different about their sexuality no longer feel as if they have to conform to anything. Different races and different ethnic backgrounds blend and assimilate back and forth to the point where the word “cultural appropriation” has actually become a subject in college.

In my younger days, culture was something that only old and frightened white people felt deserved protection. Now the majority of people who want to insulate and protect their culture are ethnic groups. The desire to homogenize is no longer as prevalent as it once was. Ethnic peoples used to pray for a day where they could just be called Americans, now they’d much prefer a richer more diversified cultural identity.

Ironically, they have become that way only because they now have the freedoms and the acceptance that allows them to concentrate on themselves for a change, and not a broader more inclusive goal as once was necessary.

Coalescence is to the modern American joke what the Pollock was when I was twelve years old. Oh how the world, and I, have changed – for the good.

The irony is that the better things become, the more selfish we’re allowed to be, and the more faults we find in the world because the world is not suiting our individual goals anymore. Things may be great for my community, my state, my gender, my race, or my culture but its not so great for moi. So, I should start a go-fund-me page in order to change all this shit to accommodate my blossoming individuality.

Meanwhile at the coffee shop, I read that Republicans want to outlaw go-fund-me accounts. Should I write another blog about it or just keep my mouth shut and hope they don’t shut down the one I started to buy myself a fishing boat cancer policy?  Why am I so cynical these days?

How are we so systematically being pushed away from each other? What around us is so deliberately tapping into our brains innate sensitivity to fear and danger? I think I know but maybe I don’t.

Being that I am not the god of knowledge, I think it’s time for me to ramble on then allow you to figure that one out for yourself. Hmm, this reminds of another Led Zeppelin song.

ramble on

Genesis 2.0

Everyone benefits from an obsession with family history. Maybe too bold a statement…? I can only speak from my own experiences but if you will allow me to explain my reasoning I think you will agree.

Had I, like many others, not followed my genealogical paths backward, I could never have better understood the whole of who I am in the way that I do now. Knowing what I know about all of the astonishing things that had to occur and all of the remarkable people who were able to survive along the way – all contributing their own DNA along the way, it has helped me to realize just how unique we all are but also amazingly true is how similar we are.

Genealogical research has a way of reverse-engineering our souls. It breaks us down piece by piece, and reveals an honesty about our pasts which is sometimes flattering and newsworthy and just as often ugly or immoral. For some, it can reveal a surprising or hidden truth, blurred by time, exaggerations, or even lies. For the majority of us, what little information we do learn from our ancestors only represents a tiny fraction of the story of us.

I vividly remember my paternal grandfather, Papaw White, telling me that we were Scotch-Irish and that I was named after Capt. John White of early American colonist fame – Roanoke/Croatoan story. I never doubted the Scotch-Irish ancestry but somehow I never really bought the Capt. John Smith story. A couple things just didn’t add up; the Captain was English and, most importantly, after returning from England to discover that his colony was lost, he returned to England and never returned to American soil.

My grandmother, however, shared her family history with me which has turned out to be pretty accurate, albeit scant in detail. She told me her family immigrated to the United States from Germany. What I later discovered was that they immigrated from a tiny hamlet called Mitschdorf, Alsace which is actually in France. Situated on the Rhine River bordering France, Switzerland and Germany, Alsace has a complicated history as it sits just below the traditional French customs border of the Vosages Mountains although the French territories stopped at the Rhine River – just beyond the tiny town of Mitschdorf. The people who inhabited that region were principally of German descent.

The German language and customs of the inhabitants of these French outskirts continued for centuries through the 17th and 18th centuries – including the time when my Neese family immigrated to the United States. Thirty year old Hans Michael Nehs, infant son Michael and his twenty seven year old wife Dorothea along with 266 other Palatines arrived in the port of Philadelphia, PA on 21 September, 1731, sailing on the ship Britannia having sailed across the Atlantic from Rotterdam, Holland. Soon after immigration the Nehs family, either through ignorance of the language or by choice, Americanized the surname to Neese and/or Neece and other similar variations which have since scattered themselves to and fro across the entire country.

So, my grandmother was actually pretty close right? You could say that but only if her story began or stopped right there – but it doesnt. Michael’s father and mother Mathias and Maria had just been living in Rusovce, Bratislava, Slovakia prior to moving to the Alsace region of France.

Cognizant to most of us family tree-climbers is that just four generations up the tree gives me no less than sixteen great grandparents. Another generation beyond that gives me thirty-two grandparents – another gives me sixty-four… each grandparent having his or her own distinct ancestry, some of it quite fascinating. Unfortunately, some is also lost forever to time and insignificance. Perhaps we should expend more energy while we’re alive with the goal of not being so insignificant.

Most of us associate our general lineage and ancestry by our last names. The truth is that you have hundreds of last names, some you’ve never heard about. If I push my ancestry out just ten generations beyond myself, I can personally verify 128 different surnames. This does not include incidences where the same last name repeats from other ancestors marrying cousins which occurs nearly a dozen times in that same ten-generation time span. There are also familial lines where I can’t YET go back ten generations.

Family Tree

I have found a wealth of new names, belonging to me, I’d never even heard before. Some of the oddest names in my lineage: Cazeneuve, Coggeshall and Erchtebrech. The Beaufort, Ragland, Marcell and Simpson are surname lines that I’ve researched heavily while the Pfeiffer, Koch, Emot and Lisbet lines are among the many still lying in wait for me to catch an interest. The gist of everything I’m writing here is that we are all so much more than the sum of two parts, even if you’ve not been formally introduced to the other parts.

While I grew up thinking I was just an average white guy with Scotch-Irish/German ancestry on my paternal side and maternal Welsh/English ancestry, I’ve since learned that I hail from Scandinavia, Spain, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece, the Middle East, Hungary, Slovakia, Israel, and Belarus. My ancestors were Vikings, Jews, Knights Templar, Spanish conquistadors, American colonists, Native Americans, Revolutionary War soldiers and early American statesmen. They were Frankish kings and Welsh nobles and they were poor farmers, merchants, tin smiths and shoe cobblers.

monty_python__the_inquisition_by_emperornortonii

What my ancestors have most in common with your ancestors is that they were all survivors. They are the survivors of numerous plagues, copious wars, inquisitions, witch trials, battlefield forays, and voyages across unknown and uncharted waters. They survived attacks from neighboring warlords, tribes, and villages. They fought off zealous religious groups, parried political unrest, returned from great world wars, defeated the Nazis, found something to eat under communist regimes, lived through indentured servitude and found freedom after generations of slavery. Our ancestors avoided the horns of Jericho and the plagues of Egypt. Had they not, you and I would not be having this conversation.

flat-world

All of us are extremely lucky to even be here. There were far more opportunities for us to have never been born at all than for us to have ascended from whatever heaven and hell our people endured. If you look far enough and broad enough backward, sideways, and crossways, you’ll find a bit of both.

Since I know that I’m a Gaul, a Latin, an Etruscan, a Greek, a Celtic, a Briton, a Silurian, a Native American, a Jew, an Arab, a Spaniard, a Frank and a Viking, I can safely assume that other people living among me who are firm in their belief that I’m either a deplorable, infidel, heathen, left-winger or right-winger might also themselves be a great many things they never knew about.

Despite our differing features, sizes and shades of skin, we’re very much a homogeneous community of very blessed people of common origin and descent. Not the kind of homogeneity like Hitler envisioned but in the way that if you look deep enough, what you find is me. Hitler didn’t have the ability to know that he himself was a Jew – we, however, do. If we all choose to use our extremist obsessions to peel back the layers of our own ancestry instead of the flaws and faults of others who disagree with us, perhaps we could all realize that we are all many different things…things which would not qualify us to be the judge of all others. Said differently, if I’m an infidel, we’re all infidels; because I am you.

 

News Makes You Fat

Along my own crooked path, I’ve painfully recognized a few of the hazards of this so-called American overabundance of things. We don’t always recognize it because it’s our ‘normal’, but we’re a very fortunate bunch of people in the big scheme of things. Having traveled all over the world, I’ve been witness to how quite a few of our neighbors live. While there are rich and poor people in every place you go, it seems there is a much bigger divide between the rich and poor in most other places.

Statistically, our moderately low income and bottom-middle class demographic in the U.S. are living far superior lifestyles here in the U.S. than how our neighbor countrymen are living abroad. Most people here never travel to see how others live. We don’t know.

Even though the media will tell us our middle class is shrinking, and it may be true for all I know, we have a very large middle class and our middle class is wealthy in comparison to the middle earners in many other countries. We’re also the biggest exporter of food in the world, exporting enormous quantities of corn and wheat and meat; “feeding the world” we like to say.

Simultaneously, we’re also over-stuffing our own pie-holes. This is why we are also leading the world in obesity and diabetes. Americans or carnivorous consumers of everything we see, whether its food, entertainment, or information. With the advent of social media and news-on-the-go, we’ve also become the leading consumers of information which has led to all sorts of unintended outcomes.

Most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what GooGoo’s are to the body. News can be very addictive and super easy to digest, much like Chinese food, leaving us hungry for more in an hour. The media feeds us small tasty morsels of trivial matter, snippets, and tidbits that have little or nothing to do with our daily lives and which require absolutely no brain power to process at all.

Unlike reading books and magazine articles, which require a little bit of brain power, we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes or political innuendo, which are like bright-colored candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to toxic news and information that we faced 20 years ago with regard to food. We are just now beginning to recognize the real toxicity of news.


News misleads, oftentimes intentionally, but most often as a result of confirmation biases and group think. We watch the news stations that we know, up-front, will most likely present or frame their stories in ways that agree with our own views and opinions, such that all of the information we consume does nothing but to confirm what we already believe we know.

From the perspectives of someone whose job it is to deliver our news, they know their audiences and work hard to creatively frame their reporting in ways that are congruent with the expectations of their audiences. In fact, I think it’s disrespectful to the real news reporters of our yesteryears to even call it news. It should be called entertainment, not news.

Actor Denzel Washington recently summed it up for us after the media ran a “fake news” story on him falsely claiming that he switched political support from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed. So what a responsibility you all have — to tell the truth.” Washington exclaimed to the rabid pack of reporters gathered like starving hyena’s on the red carpet. “In our society, now it’s just who’s first — who cares, get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true, just say it, sell it. Anything you practice you’ll get good at — including BS.”

We as a society are not rational enough to be exposed to this modern psychology-driven press. Most of us grew up with responsible news anchormen like Walter Cronkite who was, at that time, touted as being the most trusted man on television. In my childhood, I learned that nightly television news was where I could get my daily doses of reality. But Walter is dead and so is unbiased news. Thus, we are woefully unprepared from a psychological sense to qualitatively analyze and filter out the kinds of biases that are common in news reporting today. Today’s news is designed to get ratings, not to educate or inform. 

Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real statistical probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you would be sadly mistaken. Bankers and economists – who have enormously powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have historically shown us that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.

News today is mostly irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you may have read or watched in the last 12 months, name one story that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of modern news is totally immaterial to any of us aside from an occasional Amber Alert – which you can get on our smart phone. The sad reality; most of us would find it extremely difficult to recognize or decipher what is and isn’t worthwhile and meaningful information.

It’s much easier to recognize what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organizations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive cerebral advantage. Many of us totally fall for that great marketing ploy as it appeals to our egos. Some of us actually get anxious when we’re cut off from the constant flow of news – unable to enjoy a dinner or social situation without constant manipulations of our smart phones. In reality, news consumption produces a huge competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger life advantage you have. Why?

News has absolutely zero real explanatory power. News items are mere bubbles of air popping on the undulating surface of a much deeper and complex world. Will the accumulation of tons of news-facts help you better understand our world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below a shock-journalists’ radar but have a transformative effect like Rock and Roll, hippies, or frozen food.

If more news information leads one to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the economic pyramid.

News Makes You Fat, Chris White

The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more news information leads one to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the economic pyramid. That’s not generally the case except for the journalists who tease our imaginations with fantastic works of fiction like Harry Potter or Star Wars.

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News can also be toxic to our bodies. It constantly triggers the human limbic system. Shocking stories spur the immense releases of cortisol. This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High cortisol levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections.

The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision, desensitization and weight gain. Now you know; it’s amazingly unfair to be forced into watching sexy news anchors on television with perfect bodies who’s job it is to make us bald and fat by force-feeding us sugar-coated stress balls.

News also increases cognitive errors. News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” News exacerbates this flaw of humanity. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities.

It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that make sense – even if they don’t correspond to reality. Today’s journalism proposes simplistic answers for complex situations. There’s no time to explain, it’s just easier to offer us viewers whatever explanations that both entertain us and fit the agenda. The news industry has, in some ways, reverse engineered the human brain and developed an information product which was bio-engineered especially for us. It manipulates our senses much like Genetically Modified Food’s (GMO’s) have been designed in labs to taste better. 

News actually inhibits normal thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News, as we know it today, severely affects memory.

There are two types of memory, long-term and short-term memory. Our long-term memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but our so-called working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is directly through a sort of narrow choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to fully understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through.


Because news disrupts our concentration, it weakens overall comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study, two scholars in Canada showed through the results of their study that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. Online news is an intentional interruption system. Online news works much like a drug. As stories develop, we want to know how they continue and end. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore.

Most news consumers – even if they might have been avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After reading four or five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, and they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed. This phenomenon is constantly proven every time I write a blog that is more than two pages long. Information is no longer a scarce commodity; attention is.

Now, I realize that it may be my writing skills that are lacking, or perhaps my subject matter a bit too geeky or boring for most, but you’d want to believe that the people closest to me would just read these things to appease me or even make me feel as is I may be a better writer than I am. At this point, I can literally say anything I want, because we’re now way beyond the word-count where my typical fan actually stops reading altogether. It may be pathetic and sad, but my reality proves my theory. Modern bio-engineered news has changed us – maybe for good. 

But this isn’t about me, it’s about all of us. Modern news is also killing our creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers, song writers, and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative and productive works at a young age. Their young and pliable brains enjoy a wide, uninhibited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas.

I don’t think I know a single person with a truly creative mind who is also a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. My own sister, an accomplished artist and creativity sensei, could care less about news. She inspires me to un-clutter my mind all the time. On the other hand, I know a bunch of boring and non-creative minds who consume news like meth-addicts.

Society needs journalism – but in a different way than we’re getting it. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. We need warnings of relevant danger and notices of pertinent  information like obituaries, new restaurant openings, and 10 mile-long yard sales. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.


News only shows the exception to the rule, never the rule itself. An example might be the Michael Brown/Ferguson, Missouri news story. How many people have been hurt, cops killed, stores looted, cars set on fire and collective property damage calculated as a result of a reputed criminal who robbed a store and died while trying to kill a police officer? The toxic ratings-oriented news of today exacerbates ones feelings of institutional racism and disillusionment with government because its profitable to report the news in that way. It doesn’t “pay” these days to report facts. Fact’s just get in the way of a good story. 

A car drives across a bridge, and suddenly the bridge collapses. What does modern news media focus on? The car. What direction it was traveling. The driver. Where he came from. Where he was headed. How he survived his near-death experience, his many struggles to cope with his new physical limitations, and frustrated attempts to walk unsupported at his September wedding.

But all that stuff is completely irrelevant. What is relevant? The structural stability of that dang bridge! That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges, right? But the car is flashy, it’s dramatic, the injured person is entertaining, his long recovery and efforts to walk down the isle unsupported is heart warming, and most importantly, it’s all news that’s cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk-map in our heads.

No news is actually good news. Perhaps it’s time to hit the scales because you probably just gained 4 pounds reading this blog.

A Ship Called Censor – History Erased

In quiet observance of some of our latest pop-culture absurdities, I found some useful truisms in an old Longfellow Psalm that I decided to doctor up a little bit with some Chris’isms. The moral of the story is multifaceted. First: Although you may be hurting individually or even as a community, history is always going to have winners and losers. That doesn’t mean we should erase the history so you can feel better about yourself. History belongs to everyone. We and our children learn from history, both good and bad.

Second: Our good history is another’s bad history. What makes you proud, hurts another. What you run away from, other’s run to. If history is hurting you and not healing you, grow up – history cannot by itself hurt you, you are hurting you. If we are successful at erasing the history that hurts us most, we’re putting our children in danger of becoming secondary victims of lessons we’ve already learned – then summarily lost.

Lastly, if you cannot find one morsel of empathy or logic in another’s alternative ideology, you’re not thinking deep enough. Although I may not agree 100% with everyone I encounter, I seldom hear any opinion with which I cannot somewhat empathize. Don’t be afraid to prove yourself wrong. It’s liberating to be wrong sometimes.

 

Tell me not, in mournful mobs,

Lives of past are empty dreams,

For the soul is dead and there are odds,

That things may not be what they seem.

 

History is real! History is earnest!

And the grave is surely not the goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returnest,

And risk forget our histories toll.

 

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our-destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us farther than today.

 

Life is long, and Time is fleeting

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Bull horns blaring, marches leading

Spray paint tags upon the grave.

 

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of our Life,

Be not dumb, like driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

 

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Dare not stray from living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead!

 

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sands of time;

 

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A Forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

 

Men found great by time gone by,

May fall from favor, his deeds undressed,

Should we erase, exhume, untie;

History then becomes suppressed?

 

Lessons lost, apt be Repeated,

Our future yearns for all experience.

Selfishness prevails the child is cheated,

Insecurity manifests the devil’s deliverance.

 

Leave alone and let be the dead,

The shackles’ keys have long been lost.

Bronze and stone statues are tying threads,

And remind us of that fateful cost.

 

Change a name, tear down a marker,

Erase, redact, our right to censor.

Less enlightened – our world is darker.

Sympathy grows an incurable cancer.

 

Let, us then, be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor, learn to wait.

 

Let your deeds be yours

And not the elimination of another’s.