LOWER YOUR STRESS—STOP CARING

Stress. We all have it, to one degree or another, it’s part of life. But why? Why do we put up with it? Stress, medically speaking, and in manageable doses, is good for us, but who likes anything in manageable doses? Not us. Not Americans. We don’t do “manageable”. We go All Out, All In, All The Time. We like our heroes/heroines larger than life, our predicaments overwhelming, our dramas Real Housewives size, or bigger. We simply don’t like things that are manageable in any way, shape, or form.

This seems counterintuitive. Why would we want unmanageable stress? Why would we want to raise our blood pressure unnecessarily? Why would we want to spend money we don’t have seeing doctors we don’t believe and taking prescriptions we don’t think are working? (OK, I hear the murmurs, the crowd of folks saying “I don’t like stress, I don’t go looking for stress, stress finds me”, I don’t believe you). Whether or not you think you are intentionally engaging in stressful practices, you are.

Do you watch t.v.? Stressful. Do you argue with friends about politics? religion? the Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots battle to be the most despised team in America? Stressful. Do you partake in team-building exercises at your office? Stressful. Do you dine at places that offer 18,637 menu choices? Stressful. Are you employed, unemployed, under-employed, overworked, underpaid? Stressful. Everything we do (aside from bubble baths, petting animals, & listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon), is stressful. The problem isn’t that we do these things – these stress inducing “pleasures”, the problem is we don’t know how to engage in these acts dispassionately, like a good judge is able to do (with the case before them), maybe not a “so-called” judge, but a good judge.

Managing stress is essential to living a healthy life. We need some stresses to make sure we don’t get “soft” but we don’t need to take all of those stresses to bed, or make them a part of our physical being. Management, real management of stress, is essential…especially in the age of Trump (doesn’t matter if you love him or wish the “Witch Doctor” from Beetlejuice would pay him a visit, the man induces stress with his incessant whining and crying and bullying and lying). So there are two viable options available for most of us (that would include everyone who can’t afford to “get away” for six months at their villa in Manarola, Liguria). Manage the stress, or…stop caring.

This makes for a tough choice, for some. If you are of certain means, and not generally on the receiving end of aspersion casting (think White, male, “good looking“, like David Beckham, Tom Hardy, or Chris Hemsworth), it’s easier to say “fuck it, who cares!“. But, if you’re like the rest of us, the Betties, Als, Geralds, Janias, Estephanies, Juan Pablos, Ntsums, Xangs, Khadiijas & Suleymanns, the choice is not so easy. Our lives are more complicated in all matters relating to “us”. Caring, about everything related to who we are, how we feel, how those close to us feel, and even the concerns of those who aren’t close but are part of our larger community/humanity. We can’t say “fuck it”, it’s not how we do.

Stress defines us— who we are, why we exist, our raison d’être, so to speak (not the beer). It offers others a glimpse into what drives us, what sustains us, and why some days are especially difficult. We need stress, we just don’t need it to control us. So, rather than running away from it, or from who you are, figure out how to manage it and then help others do the same.  What this looks like (management) will differ based on the individual. But remember, although we are individuals, we’re all in this together…well, most of us. And, as Prince reminds us,  when “the elevator tries to bring you down, Go Crazy“. Occasionally, that’s the best response to any situation.

Lake St. Southside Minneapolis #DiamondLkPhotography

Are you ready to lower your stress? Are you Ready For The World? I am.

 

 

2017- Musical Themes for a New Reality:

Well, here we are— 2017! It’s here! Really, this is it! I guess. I would say the event was anticlimactic but that would mean I truly believed something grand would happen, but it didn’t, and really, I had no expectations. I know that very little ever happens on New Year’s Eve but there is often a feeling associated with the coming of the new year (especially after the Longest December ever) and that feeling was missing this go-round. New Year’s Eve didn’t feel like a new dawn or a new day; it felt like the coming of a new school year…if you’re the student who spends more time hiding from bullies, looking for quiet places to read, and coming up with new sicknesses so as to escape the drama that awaits. It was—well…it was an eve.

Having spent the past month thinking about the possibilities that exist for the coming year (which is a weird exercise in positive thought process while remaining cognizant of the current realities), I’ve come to the conclusion that this is not the best use of time and is most certainly one way to drive oneself mad. Therefore, as a way to think about 2017 in different terms, sort of non-political, politically-motivated-(in most cases)-musical terms, I’ve figured out which songs will end the year as the Top 17 most played tracks (and a few more that will console, humor, and assuage the dark thoughts). They span a variety of musical styles and eras, and they will definitely get a lot of “air time”. Whether listening to Ryan Seacrest and friends, Pandora, I-pod, I-cloud, or spinning vinyl on the turntable, here’s the must-have list of music to get you through 2017 (and probably a few more years). And if you’re wondering how this ties into policy, consider these songs as a catalyst to define “the problem”. Formulate ideas about how to address the problem. Implement the “solution” to said problem. And, then, after some time has passed, evaluate your outcome (and don’t feel the need to tell everybody about the results; most of the time, nobody will read your findings, and those that do will question your graphs and say they are irrelevant and/or hard to understand (this is not your fault, graphs can be hard)).

#17) PatienceGuns & Roses: We will count on many virtues to get through this stretch of instability, weirdness, cockamamie, tomfoolery, downright inane ideas, & more, and patience may be the most important of these virtues. Keep a paper bag handy for those times when you are completely out of patience and just need to breath deeply, in a personal space. The melancholy of November Rain will also be popular, especially after a good deep breathing session.

#16) UglyFishbone: If I had to choose one word to sum up expectations, this is it. And so it goes in the world of politics, policy, public affairs, personal vendettas, polarizing platforms, patriarchy, & people who are predisposed to prideful displays of dopiness. As somebody kind of famous probably once said, “it is what it is”.

#15) The Revolution Will Not Be TelevisedGil Scott-Heron: The revolution was not televised in the ’60s & will not be televised this time either; the revolution takes place in the mind. Once we, collectively, get on the same page, the revolution will happen through the will of the people. Just remember what the crow says, “CAA” (not all crows enunciate the “w”), Communication, Action, Advocacy. Communicate with everyone, not just those you agree with. Don’t simply discuss what needs to be done, MOVE on those ideas. Advocate, advocate, advocate; if elected officials “don’t know” something is a problem, call, email, write a letter, visit your leaders at their office, get their attention somehow.

#14) The Times They Are A Changin’Bob Dylan: It’s true. And, it’s happening at rates of speed much greater than we’ve ever seen. Change: political; social; economic; demographic; linguistic; industrial; religious; and even the ways we think about change; is moving at light speed, or faster. We might be overwhelmed by the rapidity with which this is happening, but if we focus on those items that we can exhibit some sort of control/influence over, together we’ll get through. It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).

#13) Wake UpRage Against The Machine: A group that never backed away from making a political statement, Rage produced a lot of music that made people stop and think about what was happening in the politics of the day, with historical references to add weight to their argument. Their music has awakened many a young person to injustices that are happening in their own backyard. Killing in the Name is another piece that provides added effect for those who are having trouble getting the sleep out of their eyes. When an unusually ridiculous event occurs and you need to let loose on the punching bag, crank up some Rage.

#12) ChangesTupac: The changes we’ve seen in our relatively short history, are immense. That said, we have a long way to go before we reach an equitable society. Listen to Tupac’s words, then listen to Sam Cooke and Billie Holiday. Reflect on the struggles, the realities, the lives— fire yourself up, and get moving.

#11) True ColorsCyndi Lauper: This has a “punchers chance” of being Song of the Year as we will constantly be reminded that the True Colors of some Americans were on display & “This” is exactly what was requested on 8 November 2016. Now is not the time to shake our heads and hope for the best, we need to talk to people; people we don’t know, people we think we have nothing in common with, people who are—people. The urban-rural divide has always existed and it’s gotten more intense as our politicians have exploited it for their political gain. We’ve gotta call them out (the politicians) and discuss civic matters with our fellow citizens that live in “those” places. Sure, it will be uncomfortable getting to know folks who you feel you have nothing in common with, but I assure you (as a person who spent the 1st half of my life in a small farming/blue collar/industrial community, and the 2nd half of my life in a variable mix of metropolitan areas in numerous locales around the country, working a variety of restaurant, retail, & education jobs) we have far more in common than you think.

#10) Follow Your ArrowKasey Musgraves & Details in the FabricJason Mraz: (it’s a tie) When the going gets tough, it’s hard to remain true to the person you are. Surround yourself with good people, good food, good energy, & constantly remind yourself of who you are, how you got “here”, and where you’re headed.

#9) Wolves in Wolves ClothingNOFX: Released in 2006, this song is as relevant today as it was a decade ago.

We are Rome, Aztec Mexico, Easter Island paradigm 
We are followers of Jimmy Jones, cutting in the kool-aid line 

We are Animal Farm Pigs, we are a Terry Gilliam film 
We are fear Oligarchy, we are wolves in wolves' clothing, 
We are this planet's kidney stones 

In the process of getting passed, metamorphosis from first to last 
A system breaking down beyond repairs 
A product of three million millionaires, a hundred million easy marks 

We are Marie Antoinette, we are Joseph McCarthy 
We've finally become the divided states 
A nation built on freedom, fear, and hate, the denotation of Irony 

We all want a Hollywood end, but we're getting a foreign one 
The script has already been penned, and titled, "the epitaph of a drowning nation"

#8) Take a MinuteK’naan: Time has to be made to give thanks for what we’ve got; recognizing all the people who have provided for us and played a role in our continued existence. Some of those people are truck drivers, farmers, factory workers in Detroit & Elkhart, artists in Oakland & Baltimore, teachers, service industry personnel, health care professionals, contractors, artisans of fine cookware and china, musicians, law pros, activists, brewers, dockworkers, academics, poets, saleswo/men, athletes, and volunteers, et al; they are all important to our daily lives. Thinking about our fellow Americans as being a necessary component of life allows for greater appreciation of our shared experiences, joys & sadness, and our reason to progress. We have differences but we are not so different.

#7) What Do You MeanJustin Bieber: Along with Sorry, (Lo Siento) and Where Are Ü NowBieber will be lauded for his unintentionally written future-present political masterpieces. With each new Trump-Tweet aimed at “guiding” foreign policy, we will hear people, the world over, screaming, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN? HOW IS HE IN CHARGE OF ANYTHING?” And millions of people in Los Estados Unidos responding “SORRY! We didn’t really think it would get this bad; it could be worse…right?”  Knowing full well it really couldn’t be that much worse but practicing self-delusion as a means of self-preservation. After a brief moment of reflection, the phrase, “Where are you now will replay in our minds until we are snapped back to reality. 

#6) Yes We CanJohn Legend & will.i.am: We can. We will. We must. Remember that it’s about the long game. Short-term gains at the expense of long-term foundational achievements is neither prudent nor practical in the “business” of nationhood. We’ve done it before, we can do it again!

#5) Man In The MirrorMichael Jackson: “If [we] want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make the change” None of us are perfect (shocking, I know). So put in the time, make those changes and then start having those hard conversations with your frenemies and others with whom you experience unpleasantries. Tell them, The Way You Make Me Feel, is not ok. And if that doesn’t work and you get the sneaking suspicion that They Don’t Really Care About ‘Us’, focus all of your energy on Getting Out The Vote! Some of the folks we’re going to be hearing from are Smooth Criminals and the only way to get rid of them is to vote out the Head Tweeter.

#4) I Hold OnDirks Bentley: It’s the message we need to hear everyday. Times will get tough (if you think we’ve already experienced the worst of it, Hold On!). The key is to remember that unless the world ends via nuclear holocaust (and I’m not denying the plausibility of that), this too shall pass. In the meantime, it’s going to be a rough ride; so buckle-up, find a little liquid courage if needed, and forge a path forward.

#3) No Woman No CryBob Marley: Considering it took us nearly 150 years (in this country) to figure out that a woman’s vote was just as important as a man’s vote, we shouldn’t be surprised that it will take at least 100 years to see the first woman elected President. 2020 would be a fine time to make that happen. We might think of it as a Redemption Song.

#2) What Goes Around…Comes AroundJustin Timberlake: JT will likely have several selections that make the year’s end Top 50 list: Cry Me A River (this will get more play as we approach November and buyer’s remorse really starts to kick in); Sexy Back (this is the song that will be put on repeat as we come to terms with the lack of class, dignity, and general civility that will be on display, from Day 1). As for the #2 hit of 2017, WGA…CA will be played by millions to remind the anti-Obama crowd, especially those who took delight in every obstruction put forth by the House and Senate, that the Golden Rule means what it says. 

#1) Fight The PowerPublic Enemy: Every Day All Day; use your “Voice” to bring attention where needed. This may come in the form of art, science, math, writing, history, sport, or just showing up and doing what you do, everyday. Fight for what is good. Fight for what is right. Fight for what is necessary. By Any Means Necessary.

In addition to those hits, several more songs will help us through this coming period of uncertainty. Additionally, make sure to take care of yourself in order that you may do your best to help get this country back on track. It’s going to take a real team effort and I know we’re up to the challenge.

Talkin’ Bout a RevolutionTracy Chapman:

Not Ready To Make NiceThe Dixie Chicks:

HurtNine Inch Nails or Johnny Cash

PepperButthole Surfers: (Listen to the lyrics and try to imagine different members of the 45th President’s administration in place of the fictitious figures. Not hard to envision these scenarios).

Happy New Year!

 

 

how not to get a job

  1. finish college 10-15 years after high school (taking courses along the way, in a variety of subject areas is especially helpful, makes people think you don’t know what you want to do, and the more variety the better, mix in arts, history, refrigeration & air conditioning repair, agriculture/horticulture, several languages, the more the merrier), this reinforces the mistaken belief that you are lazy, and stupid, and probably not worth an interview
  2. get a masters degree shortly after finishing undergrad (and be sure to spend a lot of time completing the readings for your courses, nobody cares but it keeps your brain sharp, which is really handy when arguing on facebook), this ploy adds veracity to the “lazy” narrative because who would go on to grad school when they have student loans from undergrad
  3. don’t build a “network” because as we know, networks are the key to 99% of potential job opportunities
  4. spend lots of time reading and researching (i.e. getting smart), again, for the facebook forums, and occasional “face-to-face” interactions with other humans, like at a wedding, or happy hour function, where you can brag about not having a job)
  5. don’t spend too much time with other humans—socializing etc. (this is a form of networking and is frowned upon by those who are not looking for employment)
  6. keep your eyes/ears open for potential jobs that you are equipped to do but have no chance at landing because you have no network at stated businesses, this makes people think you’re “trying” to find work, which is really important when looking for sympathy from family, friends, former classmates who are employed et al.
  7. read a lot, it prevents you from having to interact (network) and keeps your mind sharp in case the day ever comes that you do want to get a job (unlikely for independently wealthy folk like you, but hey, why take the chance of being unprepared)
  8. make sure to keep your linkedin profile up-to-date and post, share, comment, and “like” everything so that people know you haven’t died and are still not gainfully employed
  9. post lots of “fun” pics on multiple social media sites so as to reinforce all the fun you’re having not being employed (it also makes others feel bad about the fact that they’re working while you’re out having “fun”…not working)
  10. when forced into awkward social settings (happy hours, non-happy hours, hours that are neither happy nor non-happy), inquire about others’ jobs and make sure that you are not smirking/withholding laughter etc. when they ask if you’d like them to set-up something, an informational interview, coffee with a coworker, something that will provide you with insights into their world of work (you don’t want them to know that you aren’t actually searching for a job)
  11. when asked “how’s the job search going?” reply, (most sincerely), “well, you know, it’s a tough market, the economy is still recovering, these things take time but I’m keeping my chin up and something will come along soon”, then offer to buy them a beer, so as to confuse them
  12. join a military service and make sure that your military occupational specialty (MOS) doesn’t easily translate into the “mainstream/corporate” sectors; this ensures that you’ll receive lots of attention for your military service but no job offers, which is exactly what military personnel are hoping for after serving their country
  13. spend several years mastering a “trade” that teaches skills that are “irrelevant” (read: time management, attention to detail, being ‘ethical’, and other weird stuff that isn’t valued in the larger “world-of-work” community)
  14. get intimate with wine & cheese and other trappings of the “upper-classes” so that you can convince everyone that you are doing “just fine” (example: using your best “Mr. Howell III” voice, “..in fact, we just had a fabulous 1990 Barolo the other night, yes, Gaja, uhhh Gorgeous, paired it with a ribeye (what else would you pair that with, silly question), amaaaaaazing! need to tell Robert Parker, I know he’s interested in hearing what I have to say about this”), lay it on thick
  15. keep up with multiple “bandwagon” teams, this lets everyone know that you spend a lot of time hanging out in your pajamas watching ESPN, reading Sports Illustrated, keeping up with The Undefeated and other great sports pages; you are most definitely not in need of a job, who in their right mind would give up all of this sports stuff for work #GoCubbies #NineteenOhEight #SkolVikings #WarriorsandCavs #PunchEmPenguins #GoCards (that’s what Mr. Hicks, a real Cardinals fan, would say), & on & on you go
  16. And finally (yes, I’m ending on “16” because it’s 2016 and when one doesn’t need a job, they do whatever they want), spend a lot of time with animals; cats, dogs, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, emus, whatever, so long as you’re gainfully unemployed, you can talk with the animals, find out what their long-term plans are in their specific job markets, just kind of hang out… of course some of the conversation will be lost in translation but the non-verbal cues should help

Whatever you do, don’t put out any signals that you are “looking” for work, that really puts a damper on remaining unemployed. Good Luck with your endeavor and let me know if you stumble upon a particularly difficult scenario (such as a job offer at a happy hour, tough, but not impossible, to get out of)

Graduation: 2009 Morgan State University - Looking to the Future
Graduation: 2009 Morgan State University – Looking to the Future

Guns, Criminals, Constitution & Policy

Seung-Hui Cho, the student who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech University, in 2007, had no criminal history. Adam Lanza, killed 27 people in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, and was not, prior to this act, a criminal. James Holmes, killed 12 people in Aurora, CO, wasn’t a criminal. Jared Loughner, Tucson, AZ, killed 6, not a criminal. Robert Stewart, Carthage, NC, killed 8, not a criminal. Jeffrey Weise, Red Lake Reservation, MN, killed 9, not a criminal. James Huberty, San Ysidro, CA, 21 killed, not a criminal. This list is but a small segment of the larger list of people who have been found guilty of murdering multiple persons in what we refer to as “mass shootings“. It is also a list of individuals who, prior to their crime, had never been convicted of a criminal offense. “No prior criminal history” is a common refrain found in many of the news reports discussing these and other (not all) mass murder events. It is for this reason that I am not worried about criminals getting their hands on guns.

The NRA and some of its supporters try to persuade us that it is not the average Joe who is committing these crimes, it is the work of criminals. We are reminded daily that if there are new gun restrictions, they will limit non-criminals (your average citizen) from obtaining guns; the criminals, however, will “always be able to get guns”. The problem with that narrative is that it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. When many of the mass shooters have never been found guilty of anything more than a misdemeanor (if that) by the criminal justice system, how can we call them criminals? The fact that their criminal history begins, and ends, with one act, should be a wake-up call to lawmakers; preventing criminals from committing these types of acts may not be their number one concern.

The next group to be blamed is rather difficult to pin down because of the varied behaviors that can be seen as normal or not normal depending on whose doing the assessing. Those individuals who are experiencing mental illness, hard to manage stress (post-traumatic, chronic, acute, et al.), or depression, are often singled out as “more likely” to engage in these kinds of acts. This provides another convenient excuse for the gun extremists (which are few in number compared to the millions of gun owners nationwide); when the shooter is found to be mentally unstable (which may or may not include those who are religiously intolerant, or affiliated with extremist views), they lay blame somewhere other than the weapons. But here too, these actions are not, in and of themselves, criminal. In the majority of these cases, criminal activity has occurred only after the shooting commences. So why does the vocal minority insist on talking to us about criminals getting guns and people who are mentally unstable, and armed, as a great danger to society? These folks aren’t the biggest concern, not even close.

Our society already watches out for those with criminal records. We “know” who commits crimes and we know some of the reasons why. We know about recidivism rates (and some programs that are working to decrease recidivism), and we keep our collective eyes peeled for the known “bad guys” who might try to do additional harm after serving their time (or they might not harm anyone). But we don’t have heightened senses for those who have never been charged with, nor found guilty of, a crime. They are the people we interact with every day.

Sure, most of us have talked about someone behind their back, with our spouses/partners, co-workers, pew-mates, bar buddies, and the like, about “his crazy rants“, reckless ways, violent vocal outbursts—concerning their wives, girlfriends, kids, neighbors, boss, local police, F.B.I., the President, et al. Yet, we assume that they, like so many others who have stated their disgust concerning the most recent “nuisance” in their life, are all talk and no action; because, really, who would act on these kinds of threats, especially after spouting off in front of numerous people—in public places.

Even Omar Mateen, who had some fairly normal teenage difficulties in his youth, was accused of domestic abuse, and is now known for perpetrating the worst mass shooting in our history, was not a criminal, in the eyes of the law. He was investigated and found to be a bit more of a threat than our friends Steve, or Ron, or Earl, or Pete, who like to talk big about what they’re gonna do to this, that, or the next person that “pisses them off”; but at the end of the day, everyone assumes it’s inane loud-mouthing, woofing, acting the fool, and all other manner of ludicrousness. So I ask you to think about the “criminal” and “mental illness” arguments that are made by some of our fellow citizens. Does it really make sense to concern ourselves with the known criminals when law enforcement is already paying closer attention to them? Should we really be watching our back constantly, because who knows when a person suffering from a malady of the brain is nearby? Or would we be better served to focus on what’s happening with the amount of gun violence in our culture; like, someone with a gun making a snap judgement, or maybe shooting up a street, or planning a massacre at a church, schoolrestaurant, club, workplace, or not planning it.

Most people don’t want to “get rid of the 2nd Amendment“; they just want some common sense measures to decrease the number of atrocities occurring in our nation. Policies that make it more difficult for anyone to obtain certain types of weapons or weapon accessories (high-capacity magazines, etc.) would be a good starting point. No, that won’t prevent all non-criminals (or criminals) from getting their hands on a weapon but it would likely prevent some of them—and that is better than none.

It is also better if the next mass shooting (because there will be more) takes the lives of 5, rather than 10, or 30, instead of 50. The families of those who are killed will be no less upset knowing that there were fewer victims of the violent act; the benefit, however, would be in knowing that fewer friends and family members were grieving the loss of a loved one. The cost of doing nothing is so much greater than any benefit inaction would generate.

Liberty Bell - Philadelphia, PA
Liberty Bell – Philadelphia, PA

If you’re reading this and thinking, the cost of any restriction on my rights to fully take advantage of the 2nd Amendment for my benefit is a cost I cannot bear. I would say, you might be kind of selfish, and furthermore, you’re never going to legally get your hands on the type of weaponry you would need to engage with a real military unit (you can’t afford an F-16), so why make such a fuss about restrictions aimed at saving lives. The idea of a militia (as referred to in the 2nd Amendment (Amendment II: A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.)), acting as a military force against a standing army,  no longer exists. We aren’t fighting the Red Coats anymore, technological advances (and having the most lethal military forces in the world) have rendered local militias mute, for this particular cause. The Constitution, to include the Bill of Rights, must adopt to the changes in our society while meeting the challenges of upholding the intent of the Framers.

What we need right now is lawmakers who are willing to look at current policies and make adjustments to outdated laws in addition to instituting new ideas. This applies not only to assault style weapons but to mental health counseling services and policies aimed at moving our civilization towards a more open and accepting society; we are, at best, a cautious and private society (especially to anyone who appears different from us) and at our worst, we are angry and hateful, particularly when we feel our social mores, our “way of life”, is threatened.

Hate is the primary driver of violence. This is not a theory, or some notion that a wise philosopher came up with while sitting atop a mountain, it’s a fact. People don’t generally kill, or maim, or injure other people because they love them or find them funny; they perpetrate these actions because of hate. In all it’s forms, hatred makes us want to lash out at someone/something. Maybe the person who caused us to feel “this way” or maybe the person that happens to be close at hand. The recipient of our rage is not as important as our inability to control it. Hate is the emotion that feeds the desire to do harm, and it’s become a bit too rampant in the present day. It must be addressed; and the laws that tackle it must have teeth.

Legislating anti-hate policy is never easy, but Americans are not ones to shy away from a challenge. We have football (American Style) and Hockey, Baltimore and NOLA, Lumberjacks and Miners,  and of course, we have Marines. We aren’t short on tough. But some of our lawmakers are short on courage. They lack the fortitude necessary to do what is right because it is unpopular with certain constituents and supporters. They are neither valiant, nor virtuous. They think first about themselves (i.e. re-election) and then about everything else. I don’t think of that as particularly American in character.

This may sound like a pie in the sky scenario, legislating acceptance and tolerance, but I’m not convinced that it can’t work. Sometimes, in order to create change, it is necessary to try the unthinkable. Maybe it could start with making civics and civility a more relevant piece of our educational curriculum. And communities could spend more time and money on making their members feel like they are part of the same gang (might even be an opportunity for some job creation here). Celebrate the uniqueness (the differences) that each group within the community contributes (just don’t get stuck on those differences, move forward to find similarities that are shared). Pretend, if necessary, that you like meeting new people; and in time, you might actually start to enjoy it.

Ducky and Junior, meeting for the 1st time and admiring each others qualities
Ducky and Junior, meeting for the 1st time and admiring each others qualities

The Art of Failure

Minneapolis trainspotting
Minneapolis trainspotting

failure. a small word, relatively speaking. a word that evokes images of “losers“, “has-beens“, “never-will-be’s“, and their ilk. a term that reminds us of what we do not want to be, do not want to be associated with; that thing we wish to never experience. it is what drives us to, if not greatness, mediocrity, because mediocrity is not failure, for most. But the truth is, we all fail, daily. Some of us more than others. And that is not ok…

Failing is as much a part of our lives as sleeping, eating, and interacting with our surroundings. As surely as one gets out of bed in the morning, one fails. These failures can be related to money (made or spent), time (wasted or just lost), status (at work, in school, amongst family, friends, the Jones’ (notice the failed attempt at spelling “you’re”)), or anything else that consumes your thoughts for more than a few minutes a day. Don’t fret, you’re not alone, you’re part of a club with over 7 billion members. And, with each failure, a new opportunity to learn is presented.

This is where The Art piece comes into play (I’ll leave the science part to the neurologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, et al.). Life, like art, provides us with extraordinary opportunities to try something, repeatedly, until we get it right, or give up; the choice is ours. Each new attempt is practice, something Mr. Iverson broke down for us in 2002 (and A.I. was talking about so much more than just “practice”). Anyway, the idea of trying repeatedly should not be viewed with an eye on how many times we fail, rather we should see each new attempt as being that much closer to success.

And what about those who never achieve the goal they’ve set? Aren’t they failures? No, it doesn’t work that way. The person who tries to quit using tobacco 10 times and starts back 10 times hasn’t failed, they’ve simply made it more likely that they will succeed the 11th time, or 12th, whatever. And maybe they’ll never quit, maybe smoking is the one thing they have in life that is comforting in their extremely high stress job/life. Maybe having a cigarette keeps them sane when what they’d really like to do is take a baseball bat to their boss’s car. In this case, success is represented in the form of a Beamer without 30 dents and missing windows. We don’t know what people are going through, how their individual experiences have shaped them and how those events have affected their current state of mind.

The failures we experience are lessons to be studied. They offer advice on how to do better the next time—which is not to say that the next time will be any more successful; but the next failure may occur due to some other unforeseen circumstance, if you learned from the previous attempt. If  not, then the next failing will likely exhibit, not-so-surprisingly, familiar events and outcomes. This is true in any type of policy formulation and/or implementation as well, failures occur everywhere and on a continuous basis (we also see massive failures in the problem definitionagenda setting and evaluation stages). What is rare, and therefore celebrated, is success, in any arena.

Fairly successful paella (the failures were minimal)
Fairly successful paella (the failures were minimal)

Success, the opposite of failure, is almost never captured on the first attempt. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again” is good for kids to hear but it might be better to tell them, “At first, you will fail; fail well, learn, and try again“. The failings are the very phenomena we need in order to figure out how to be successful. Success comes over time; the getting there part is not easy, quick, nor a particularly glamorous undertaking. And that is what makes It so much more satisfying when It is finally achieved.

Celebrate the tenacity of the Roses that grow from concrete. - Like Tupac did.
Celebrate the tenacity of the Roses that grow from concrete. – Like Tupac did.

Malcolm Gladwell studied people who had become masters of their professions and found that what many had in common (aside from greater access and opportunity (from birth)) than the average individual) was the number of hours they were able to dedicate to mastering a particular concept/field. As others have found, however, this theory rests, at least in part, on the stability of the particular profession, i.e. rules, regulations, static conditions, as well as the individual’s penchant for the work. Taken together, this leads me to believe that life, in it’s simplest form, is all about failure. The countless hours spent learning, enjoying the process of learning, which is to say learning from the failing, is what ultimately makes one successful. And so those rare moments, when we aren’t failing, are so out of sync with the rest of our routine that we have to stop and take notice, celebrate, dance, hoot-n-holler, and partake in all form of Tomfoolery. That is, if you are of this world. There are those who, practice aside, make their job look too easy, they mock us mere mortals by their very existence.

Back to The Art of Failing. Find new and unusual ways to fail (meaning try things in new ways). The more you are able to learn from each failure, the more quickly you are able to find A successful way, which is different from THE successful way. Very few activities have just one way that they can be accomplished. That’s the beauty of art and failure, we can each produce our own “works” that make sense to us (if nobody else), and which we can learn from because we understand our own methodologies, our own thought processes, better than we understand someone else’s.

Intentional misspelling to make a point?
Intentional misspelling to make a point? Plural of the obvious? Reference to the beach where the opium was burned?

In policy making, this idea becomes more difficult, some would say an exercise in futility. When multiple sects/groups (extreme or otherwise) are attempting to craft any policy, they should consider the effects said policy will have on the larger community (school district, city, state, nation, etc.), not just the intended recipients. Policy failures are not bad if the failure occurs prior to the implementation stage, where they can still be reworked. But once you’ve gotten to the point of execution, it means the policy has become law; and if mistakes/bad ideas are uncovered by those affected by the policy, the enactment will likely still go forward while people look for loopholes, end-arounds, and other ways to mitigate the bad policy that passed through the system (which is to say lots of meetings that are unlikely to produce much in the way of good ideas).

There are many examples of policies that are failures—were bound to fail from the beginning, and for all the good intention of those involved, their lack of  prior learning (first-hand knowledge gained by failing in the setting/system) led to the failed policy being implemented. The field of education is ripe with this type of failure. Too often, in recent decades, we’ve seen well meaning (always assume best intentions) politicians, with the assistance of lawyers, business folk, PhDs armed with literature reviews and in-depth research, and lobbyists, come up with new ideas to address students and teachers “shortcomings”. The primary issue that is almost always immediately apparent upon the policy taking effect, is the lack of teacher and student input concerning the new rules. Sure, they probably interviewed a teacher or two, from the “best” school in the state, to get their thoughts, but never considered talking to the educators who work in the schools where 95% of students are experiencing poverty, trying to learn in severely crowded classrooms with textbooks that are 30-plus years old and kept together with duct-tape, masking-tape, glue, and pixie dust. In these settings, students and teachers first priority is not a test score improvement or the closing of an achievement gap, but ensuring the students are not hungry, not suffering any form of abuse, physical ailment, mental health condition, and if so, finding them the proper professionals to help. Additionally, teachers are trying to ensure that their classrooms are safe spaces for all students; preventing bullying behaviors of LGBTQ, smaller, weaker, “different”, and those students who have been singled out for any number of reasons (all non-sensical) has become a priority that many schools are no longer ignoring. Beyond that, most teachers know that a test score means virtually nothing when it comes to finding success beyond high school. Understanding social mores, developing soft skills, learning how to adapt to the culture of a new work/school environment, these are the concepts most important for the more than 50% of kids who never attend a four year institution (and, these concepts are important to the students who do attend 4-year schools, but these students are more likely to get away without mastery of or competence in the aforementioned areas because of a variety of other factors, to include the utterly ridiculous, appalling, & repugnant).

Failing is something that is done both with and without intention. Like the Potter who is creating a vessel for aesthetic and functional purposes, she intends to make a unique creation and therefore tries new ideas/methods. Rarely does the new technique work the first time, but she tries again, and again, learning, relearning, perfecting the imperfections until…Voilà! So too is life a series of failed attempts that over time enable us to accomplish daily tasks and grand achievements (this is similar to what I do on a daily basis, literally and figuratively). Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the failure, use this new knowledge to reconfigure and move forward (the glass half full concept is good to remember, it means there’s room for more beer learning).

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Ducky (The Dutchess) posing for her Glam-Dog photo-shoot. A real Princess. This is a non-sequitir.

I fail, to my wife’s chagrin, a lot. I’ve got well over the requisite 10,000 hours needed for mastery of this non-professional profession. Every day, upon waking, I know I have already failed. My lack of height (Vikings are supposed to be at least 6 feet tall), lack of six/seven/eight-figure salary, my messy office space, my inability to grasp the ridiculousness of trying to do it all, and that’s just in the first few minutes of being awake.  I failed to take the Dutchess on short walks (going around the block routinely turned into an hour of lollygagging around the neighbor’s (a pizza joint) garbage can, the smell of pizza crusts, sausage, and pasta remnants emanating from its interior proved too strong a temptation to resist. And the list goes on, and on, and… But, for all of my failings, I have gained knowledge, great volumes full of all manner of wisdom and scholarship. And I’m not done, I’ll continue failing until I go to that big Beach in the sky, the one where dogs and cats are welcome, the two best beers, Cold and Free, are served on tap, and the failures of the past are no longer relevant.

And so, the idea of failing not being ok is still true—it is better than ok, it is wonderful, and great, and stupendous…and, necessary; because repeated failures often lead to the greatest success. Without failure we don’t advance, we don’t learn, we don’t move civilization to new heights (some would say this has been the model of the GOP recently, I won’t go that far but I do wonder if the word “progress” is in their dictionary). We get stuck and sit around waiting for somebody else to do something, just waiting on the world to change. Each new failure means we aren’t waiting on anybody, we’re doing it, we’re taking the reins for our particular situation and doin’ the damn thing.

Alejandro I (yucca tree), aged 17 years, failed to survive the winter of 2010-11, but Alejandro Jr. (from the same roots) is alive & well.
Alejandro Sr. (yes, he is a yucca tree) failed to survive the winter of 2010-11, but Alejandro Jr. (same root system) is alive & well.
Alejandro Jr.
Alejandro Jr., proving success is possible after a great failure.

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career/ I’ve lost almost 300 games/ 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot/ and missed./ I’ve failed over, and over and over again in my life./ And that is why/ I succeed.

 Michael Jordan

Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.

Life Policies: “Best Practices”

The last thing graduates need at this time of year is another article extolling them for their hard work and dedication, and offering unsolicited advice that pertains to their future. That said, it may be handy to reflect upon the skills and knowledge that have been picked up along the way. From that starting point, one can expound on the deeper meanings and offer takeaways that expand future opportunities. Moreover, this would be an appropriate topic for a blog that logs millions of hits daily and is ranked as a perennial “Top 10” (according to people who know these things); but since The Oatmeal is a little busy with other fun stuff, I guess I’ll do it. Whether finishing up your first full year in kindergarten (a disproportionate percentage of  my readers fall into this category, but that bodes well for 26.3s long-term viability), leaving elementary behind for middle school (a.k.a. Junior High), pushing on from 8th to 9th grade, receiving your high school diploma, or attaining one or another type of college parchment pronouncement, here are some Best Practices for life (and these should in no way be confused with the “best practices” used by Trump University, Enron, Washington Mutual, or Lehman Brothers).

First off, make sure you have a list of life policies that you support (e.g. people should be nice), policies you could support, if they were enacted (like, free ice cream every saturday, for everybody), policies you don’t find logical (such as, one can join the Marines at 18 but can’t legally drink a beer until they are 21, with minor exceptions), & policies you believe were written by cavemen (Smoot-Hawley, yes, literate cavemen). And then expand your list based on what you’ve learned in your time on earth.

Kindergartners often leave their first year with a sound understanding of basic social skills. It’s not a stretch then to move from simple niceties (Hello, Please, Thank You, Sorry, Pardon me, snack sharing) to the ideas of: sharing more than a snack with your fellow wo/man; holding a door for the person behind you; comforting a person or animal that is scared; standing up for those who may be unable to speak/act for themselves: the elderly, children, persons with physical, mental, emotional, disabilities, pets and other animals; and those who often go unheard: the homeless, people experiencing poverty, individuals suffering any form of abuse, the marginalized members of our communities. Six-year-olds know many of these things a posteriori, there’s no reason the rest of us shouldn’t be able to think about others’ well-being, in addition to taking care of oneself.

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By the time kids finish 5th grade, they have figured out that what they are good at is very often an activity that they enjoy, it’s not a coincidence. Some have a natural talent (e.g. athletics), some have been gently pushed in a general direction (e.g. readers/writers), some find that numbers just make sense in their heads, and others, well, some kids like everything, they are curious about the world.

Curiosity is a trait we are born with, i.e. it is innate. As children grow, and learn, and make mistakes (lots of this by the end of 5th grade), most of them come to understand that curiosity is a precursor to ridicule. Anytime you admit that you don’t know something, you open yourself up to comments from those who know, or think they know. Due to this form of “peer-sneering”, the overtly curious fall into two camps, those who keep the questions to themselves (which then divides into another set of camps; the closet nerds/dorks/geeks and the kids who learn to become less curious and accept the status quo without question)…

And this is a good opportunity to talk about sheep. Those who “follow blindly” as some would say, are not sheep. Two differences; 1) this assumes sheep are not smart, au contraire. Sheep understand that they are not lions or tigers or bears and therefore they place their trust with the shepherd and the sheep dogs (the caretakers/protectors). 2) People are smart; they have figured out how to navigate their own waters without capsizing their boat. This doesn’t make them weak, or stupid, or followers, it makes them people. Not everyone was born to lead, or question everything, or fight the power; nor was everyone born to build bridges, analyze massive volumes of excel data, or teach children how to read. Remember that if we were all the same, our world would be a very dull place and we know what the dull life leads to.

…and those who don’t care (like me) about what others think, we are just curious about everything and want to know who, what, why, how, when, where, and furthermore, are you certain.

Another thing noticed by graduates of the 5th grade is the speed at which life is moving—the pace of everything has quickened (excluding snails, tectonic plates, & molasses). This is to say, the adults are cramming more stuff into the same number of hours (13 & ½ to be exact). Therefore, regardless of what category of curiosity you fall into, attention spans need to be lengthened if you hope to pick-up all of the bits of information that are being thrown at you. And whether one is trying to learn everything—because why not, or because that’s the better of the two options you’ve been given in life, or you are focusing on exactly what the adults existing in your hemisphere have asked you to focus on, remember how much fun it is to be curious and learn new things. Appreciate the fleeting moments of bliss that come from every extraordinary discovery. They are often unexpected and appear out of left field—from people that you may not even be aware of. Therefore, introduce yourself to classmates that are outside of your peer-sphere. Share the joys of an aha moment as you get to know your cohort. Each member has a strength or three and a weakness or five, learn from each other, help each other, and begin to engage in the larger community you are a part of. Middle school can be scary, do everything you can to make the next few years as pleasant as possible.

Paisley Park Tribute & Memorial: 24 April 2016
Paisley Park Tribute & Memorial: 24 April 2016

If you’ve made it to the end of 8th grade, you’ve gotten through the most confusing and confounding part of life (for most). Congratulations! Between the ages of 10 and 14, our bodies and brains undergo a lot of changes. Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and environmental transformations (i.e. health & wellness) can make your head spin out of control. It is at this point that you need to “Slow It Down. Put more thought into your actions, inactions, and potential actions. Don’t “just do it”, as the shoe company implores you to. Contemplation should become a staple of your lifestyle diet.

Along with the changes they’ve undergone, another characteristic of the “rising” 9th grader is their acceptance, to varying degrees, of those with whom they don’t share many visible similarities. Many students are putting 2 & 2 together and realizing that a label: “Brown, Yellow, Puerto Rican, or Haitian” Native American, African American, African, Middle Eastern, Indian, Hispanic/Latina, Asian, Pacific Islander, Indigenous Peoples from every continent, White, Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender, Queer, Nerd, Jock, Drama-kid, Geek, Punk, Skater, Gearhead, is not as important as the fact that we are all human; one race of people with a multitude of differences that should be respected, celebrated, understood, and cherished for what they are—unique.

High school graduates have learned a lot about the word “character”, and standardized testing. Only one of those will have any long-term affect on their life (I know what some of you are thinking, and no, I don’t think the ACT/SAT etc. are all that important either, not in terms of how one lives their life). Character; what it means, how it affects one’s life trajectory, why it’s important, and which qualities are the most salient in each individual’s particular situation, these are the things that will impact and guide lives. The residue that adheres to the students, from engaging each new day (this is the foundation of character), will carry them through the remainder of their journey. A few of the most essential character traits, in my book, are: resolve (a.k.a. grit, tenacity, sticktoitiveness, all of which tie in to work ethic), empathy, judgement, tact, and optimism; qualities found in many a 26.3er.

The grad who plans to join the Navy needs to have a lot of resolve. They spend long periods of time at sea, often with Jar-Heads aboard. The combination of a new environment and living alongside Marines is more than enough to make them question, if only briefly, their choice of military branch. Resolve gives them the ability to deal with that insecurity and move forward (or let the boat move them forward). Empathy and judgement; these two go hand-in-hand. If a person has developed a strong sense of empathy for others, they are likely to use better judgement when dealing with a given situation. They understand that life is not painted in black and white; it is, rather, a million shades of grey.

Tact. I have noticed a general decline in public prudence and sensibility. This is not to imply that everyone is rude and thoughtless but there are trends. Customer service continues to decline (this could be directly related to wages), both in real and perceived terms (and perception, to the perceiver, is reality). Tact is not reinforced; rather, the opposite of tact, disregard or carelessness in one’s manners, is occasionally reprimanded with little or no mention of the steps needed to correct the behavior. Be proactive, take the opportunity to teach when it presents itself. And if someone is taking time to teach you (without being an ass about it), pay attention. The so called “soft skills” are equally, if not more, important, in many entry-level jobs. 

Optimism is maybe the most important of all. We live in times that have seen long-term wage stagnation, hyper-vigilance amongst some individuals who are not comfortable in our increasingly diverse country, extreme political divisiveness, and an economy that works really well for about 1/5 of our population, but not nearly as well for the rest of us. It’s hard to be optimistic when “everything” seems to be working against us. Yet, not everything is horrible. The economy is getting better, if ever so slowly. We’re still waiting for the labor market to hit critical mass, in hopes of seeing wages rise, but jobs are returning, in most places. And hey, by 2021, you might be a “baller, shot caller, [with] 20″ blades on [your] Impala“.

Beyond high school, the age of post-secondary graduates varies dramatically. Non-traditional students are becoming a norm and the subjects covered are much broader now. The variety of jobs that exist today includes many that nobody had thought of 30 years ago (e.g. app developer, Baltimore Ravens cheerleader, professional hacker). So, in order to address everyone, from chefs to shellfish farmers, aircraft mechanics to actuarys, and educators to eco-system managers, I’ll recount some of the most relevant knowledge as it relates to every profession in every field, everywhere, ever (ok, maybe that’s a little too much).

The two concepts that professors should have figuratively beaten into your skull, regardless of what the course syllabus spelled out, are how to think creatively and how to think critically. The combination of these thought processes bear responsibility for our collective future (that’s heavy, maybe too heavy, but it’s true). As a world, we are going to have to be extremely creative in coming up with new ways to support a larger population while witnessing the automation and mechanization of more jobs. This doesn’t guarantee a net loss of future jobs but it does require a lot of thought about how we’re going to make our economy work for everyone, not just the lucky “makers“.

Critical thought is something we’ve always done, it’s just that we aren’t told we’re thinking critically when we are young. The idea of observing, reflecting, thinking about the how and why (analyzing), and then taking that knowledge and forming new ideas and sharing them, is a complex way of describing what four-year-olds do at the beach. They look at a sandcastle and then go about figuring out how to construct their own. And while they’re at it, they often try some new-fangled engineering fete, fail, and move forward. With all the knowledge accumulated over the previous 14 – 20 school-years, post-secondary graduates should have a pretty good idea of how to do this. The real challenge is making sure that they are working across sectors, industries, and geographic locales. Combining creative and critical thought is not new but it should be practiced more liberally so that together we will be able to solve just about any problem we encounter (still working out how to combat Nyquil packaging).

Now Hear This!

Don’t take the bad advice of the “greatest” graduation speakers. “Go[ing] confidently in the direction of your dreams”, “Follow[ing] your passion”, etc., etc., is great… if your dreams include being a math teacher in rural America, lots of call for that particular position. However, if you dream of reading Shakespeare while noshing fish & chips and quaffing a Tallgrass Brown Ale, at the Anchor & Hope, in the Southwark neighborhood of London (yes, the same neighborhood where the Globe Theatre resides), then I might suggest you adjust your navigational settings to something a little more realistic. Like teaching Shakespeare, and Morrison, and Ellison, and Cisneros, and Fitzgerald, to students who will, generally speaking, not show much interest in the subject matter (which is not to say that they won’t learn anything, just don’t expect much when teaching certain books). But that’s ok; because there are students that will be engaged and their lives will be changed by the work you do and the bonds that you build with them. And, because teaching provides a steady wage (not as much as it should, but steady). Of course, if you are independently wealthy or have parents who are willing to bankroll your efforts to achieve Nirvana, etc., no, the other nirvana, then by all means, do it up; and bring a friend if you feel so inclined (back to the kindergarten knowledge—sharing).

I’m not advising anyone to become a disinterested automaton, mindlessly working to increase profits and productivity. Dream; Dream BigLive with Passion; imagine SeReNdIpItOuS events, do all the things that provide your spirit with the fuel it needs to carry on. But, remember, life is a lot easier when you can pay your rent on time, eat regularly, buy seasonally appropriate clothing, and have a little “back-up” in the bank, for emergency situations. So, if at all possible, find work that pays a living wage, appreciates you, helps to advance your skill set while dropping new knowledge into your noggin, and encourages you to be creative in your processes. Then, each day, use your remaining hours to work on your dreams and passions.

Lastly, here are a few pieces of advice that you probably didn’t learn in school but are of equal import.

  1. When watching/listening to a story that involves people making decisions that you don’t agree with, it’s good to remember that while one may not agree with the action(s) taken by said person/group, those actions, placed in the proper context, can be understood.
  2.  “It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all; the opposite of love’s indifference“.
  3.  Sometimes you need to “Take a Walk. Not necessarily to Bolivia or even across state lines, just get out and walk, clear the head, breathe, give yourself an opportunity to think.
  4. Whenever you are considering new laws, rules, et al. (in any setting), think about who’s not at the table. Too often we witness the implementation of new policies that haven’t been properly vetted. Key stakeholders are left out of the negotiations and therefore they don’t have any real connection to the new legislation. You can’t blame somebody for ignoring a policy if they had no voice in the process.
  5. Take a road trip if you have the means; “Talladega“, Baltimore, Kansas City, El Segundo, or anywhere else that you haven’t yet ventured. Meet new people, try new foods and see America’s beauty from a different vantage point.
  6. Sometimes you’ve gotta let loose. However, it is advisable, during these escapades, to have a trustworthy friend nearby, so as to keep you from doing anything that may prevent future employment opportunities from occurring.

Best of Luck and Congratulations, as you turn the page and step into a new chapter in your life.

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Ideas, not-Resolutions, to Make 2016 Great!

Resolutions come like waves upon the shore, at this time of year. There are endless ideas of what to do, how to do it, how to make it last, and how not to give up, give in, or give out. I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution; I had a sneaking suspicion I wouldn’t make it to the gym after a couple of weeks, wouldn’t want to live a life devoid of donuts, ice cream, and beer, or couldn’t contemplate writing down all of the things I wanted to accomplish in the coming year—knowing it was an exercise in futility. What I do enjoy is reading other people’s lists of favorite things.

Watching the State of the Union with bubbly is always a good idea.
Watching the State of the Union with bubbly is always a good idea.

Top 10 lists (or top 20, top 5, etc.) are one of my favorite things to peruse when I have a few moments of spare time. Occasionally they are titled wrong (maybe, My Favorite Craft Beers would have been more appropriate) or seem way off base for a variety of reasons, and sometimes they are (in my opinion) spot on; but most often, I know far less about the list than the person/people who compiled it and I just enjoy learning about other folks’ favorite: restaurants/bars, state parks, tailgate traditions, music, bicycles, scenic drives, wines/beers, bad t.v. et al.  I’m sure that New Years resolutions and lists of things to: accomplish, avoid, start, end, learn, unlearn, and whatever else we can think of, will be read by millions of people over the next month. So as a kind of tangent to a “Best” list, I offer you 50 ways to make 2016 Great.

  1. Use common sense. This may be obvious in thought but that doesn’t always translate in deed. See # 2.
  2. Dress for the weather. This is unsolicited advice for anyone who is too cool to wear a hat when it’s -6° with a windchill of -23° (this applies to adults as well as teens).
  3. Try a new cuisine. Be it Indian, Ethiopian, Thai, or Mediterranean, try it, you’ll probably like it. And if you don’t, well, at least you won’t have to wonder anymore.
  4. Be really nice to a complete stranger. It makes them feel good—and nervous, simultaneously.
  5. Exercise your brain. Engage in civil debates/conversations with those who hold views with which you disagree. Try to understand why they feel the way they do and then explain your stance and how you’ve come to believe it. You may be surprised to find you have much more in common than you thought.
  6. Exercise your heart-Part 1. Walking, biking, swimming, x-country skiing, skateboarding, movement of some sort for some extended period of time at least a couple of times a week. And a glass of red wine each day doesn’t hurt.
  7. Help raise a generation of girls that are more concerned with wavelengths than weight, more interested in philosophy than hair styles, more connected to their community than to glorified images that are too often not representative of reality, and more invested in their social well-being than they are in the misinformation provided by the “experts” in the media and magazine trades. Girls’ obsession with body image and appearance is not healthy for them, psychologically, physically, or emotionally. Praise girls for their intelligence, strength, curiosity, independence, courage, determination, forthrightness, astuteness, wit, cunning, and perseverance. And tell them they are beautiful; not because of outward appearances but owing to the fact that they are wonderful & amazing & kind, & compassionate, & thoughtful. Reinforce, daily, the attributes that are truly the most important in the grand scheme of life.
  8. Laugh. You may need the assistance of Wanda Sykes, Richard Pryor, Aziz Ansari, Amy Poehler, or other comics, but don’t let that stop you. Laughing is an excellent stress reliever.
  9. Exercise your heart-Part 2. Love unconditionally. Don’t ask for or expect Love in return, just Love for the benefit of giving Love. It feels good.
  10.  Splurge on something you really enjoy. This doesn’t require the expenditure of hundreds or thousands of dollars. If you love coffee, grab a cup of Dogwood (Minneapolis), High Grounds (Baltimore), or Deeper Roots (Cincinnati), sit, relax, and savor it; be present for the experience.
  11. Jump around. You don’t need to be at a Wisconsin Badgers football game to do this. Just don’t do it in the middle of a really important meeting.
  12. Make fun of yourself. Nobody has ever achieved perfection (not even the Holiest of Holy figures) so why not make light of something you did that was not very bright. We are human, therefore we occasionally screw up. So long as you learn from your mistakes, it’s easy to look back and laugh.
  13. Spend a day, or three, without a screen. This includes p.c.s, laptops, phones, nooks, i-pads, kindles, apple watches, t.v.s and everything else. It’s quite interesting to suddenly notice the everyday events that you’ve been missing for years.
  14. Play a game. Even if you don’t particularly care for games or competition, find a few friends and play a game of Yahtzee, Scattegories, or Sheepshead.
  15. Meet a neighbor. This is happening less and less as we become more and more polarized and concerned with privacy. We isolate ourselves from anyone we don’t meet at work, church, or school. Who knows, you may live next to a brewer (bonus), baker (bonus), or Marine (double bonus).
  16. Go to your local bookseller (not Amazon) or library and ask an expert for a recommendation. Reading exercises the brain and provides the reader with new ideas and new ways to view the world.
  17. Shop small & local. Skip the superstores and get to know the business owners, and employees, at the little quaint/quirky places that make a community what it is.
  18. Make something delicious and drop it off at the Police Station or Fire Department. They work hard for the good of the community and don’t often receive accolades for their daily grind. Additionally, our society tends to forget that for every misguided act by a First Responder, a thousand outstanding acts are accomplished without any acknowledgement. Whether in Farmington, New Hampshire, Minnesota, or New Mexico, or anyplace not named Farmington, show them some Love; and while you’re there, get to know them by name, they’re part of your community.
  19. Volunteer at a school, nursing home, homeless shelter, animal shelter, or on a community project that is providing hope to all those who are experiencing difficulties.
  20. Dance. Fast or slow, the Whip/Nae Nae, the Dougie,  choreographed, or free-style, Celtic or Krump, two-step or Step Up (2). Don’t worry about looking foolish, just have fun.
  21. Make a card for someone. Birthday; Get Well; Congratulations! Whatever.
  22. Learn something new. The options for on-line learning are seemingly endless. Many are free or low cost and learning helps exercise your brain. Other options include: read a “how-to” book; volunteer at a business; or take up a new hobby; and once you learn the basics, practice, practice, practice.
  23. Make a plan to incorporate better work-life/school-life balance into your schedule.
  24. Go to a gallery opening or art museum. If you aren’t sure that you like art, google something that you like and add “art” to the end. Like, “fishing art“. Use the results to find an artist or gallery that is nearby or coming to your area.
  25. Learn about the issues & candidates for the 2016 election. If you choose not to vote, you give up your voice in the process (which is one way to communicate your belief that the politicians don’t connect with you). It’s not simply whether your chosen candidates/ballot measures win or lose, it’s about engaging with society and keeping democracy alive and well (even if we still use the electoral college for the top office).
  26. VOTE.
  27. Donate to a food shelf. There are organizations that supply human food (Baltimore, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Orange County, Tyler, Lexington, Albany, Honolulu, Jacksonville, & Rusk County), to name a few, and places that supply pet food; do what you can to help.
  28. Help create and/or change policy. Engage with your elected representatives. Write a letter or email, call, advocate for a cause, help raise money, engage others in conversations and make your case.
  29. Teach someone how to do something. While much of our nation seems to have forgotten the importance of passing on information via individualized learning (apprenticeships, coaching & cultivation, guidance, training, whatever one chooses to call it), it’s hasn’t yet been erased from our collective memory. Help someone, young, old or inbetween, learn how to do the basics of a job. Look at it as an opportunity to carry your legacy forward.
  30. Thank Service Women & Men and Veterans, whenever the opportunity presents itself. If you’ve served, you know the deal. If not, be thankful for those who have.
  31. Find out the history of your community. It’s good to know why your city/county chose the figures they did, for commemorative statues and plaques. It’s also fun to learn about the immigrants/groups that first called your locale home; and learn about the events that have since shaped that place.
  32. “Barn’s burnt down, now I can see the moon.” Mizuta Masahide (Japanese Poet: 1657-1723) was telling people to find something good in whatever tragedy comes upon us. This doesn’t apply to every bad thing that happens. Some events have no upside—none. But many do.
  33. Don’t text or use social media et al. while driving. (refer back to # 1)
  34. Sports should be undertaken as a means of improving: physical fitness, discipline, hand-eye/foot-eye coordination, working as a team, camaraderie, & building character. Vince Lombardi’s adage about winning not being everything… only applies to athletes who get paid to play the game. When it comes to youth sports, specifically the highly organized type, try to remember that your child’s odds of making it as a pro are 1 in a really big number (#s vary depending on the sport). So encourage children to have fun, learn, and most importantly, understand the realities of competition (some kids are bigger, faster, stronger—due to genetics, drive, opportunity, & access). Likewise, parents should know when to back off and let their kids focus on other activities. It’s just a game.
  35. Don’t “Just Do It”. Think about the potential action and the consequences of said action, before engaging in it.
  36. Keep everything in perspective. Our world has enough drama. The person who didn’t clean out the microwave, make a new pot of coffee, or unjam the copier, didn’t do it to spite you personally. They are just not thoughtful or may be pre-occupied with a deadline, a family emergency, financial uncertainty, medical difficulty, etc., etc.
  37. Keep “context” at the forefront of every situation. Context is the main idea that is missing from so many highly charged arguments. If two people are talking about social security, one being a retired teacher, the other being a 30 year-old investment banker, they may talk in terms of “benefits” and “entitlements”, respectively. If they were to clarify why each uses the language they do, their conversation may be less heated and more productive. Politicians and each party’s base are often guilty of not understanding (and not caring about) the context before engaging in rhetoric.
  38. Rock the boat—just don’t capsize it. When you encounter situations that are obviously not in keeping with maintaining civility in the workplace or society at large, or are undermining the public’s confidence in the company/org/gov’t/partnerships, point it out and work to right the wrong. This is not easy, but then, what worth doing is? Recruit friends, co-workers, like-minded folk, to help (strength in numbers). Whether it be a loudmouth who is always injecting their thought into “a-to-b” conversations, equity in funding schools and programs, or gross negligence on the part of upper management, Do[ing] the Right Thing will make the community more civil, the organization more trusted, and the day-to-day routines more manageable.
  39. Re: -build; -use; -new; -cycle. Until we come up with a better way to use trash, we should try to cut down on it. Environmentalists shouldn’t be the only ones concerned with the long-term viability of our planet.
  40. Do things right the first time. When we half-ass a project, in order to spend time on another project, we often end up with two half-assed projects. This is: a) non-sensical; b) not efficient; & c) ends up creating additional work because we have to fix both projects.
  41. Strengthen your spirit. This might mean doing something you’ve been avoiding, because it’s not fun, or really time consuming, but once it’s done, your spirit is likely to feel a boost because the “job” is no longer hanging over your head.
  42. Support a local non-profit/charity. You might only have a few dollars to spare, or you might have a few thousand, either way, help out a charity that speaks to you. Lots of smaller charities are doing great work on budgets that are a fraction of what the United Way has.
  43. Love Yourself. This can be really difficult when things aren’t going well personally, professionally, spiritually… but remember, nobody is perfect. Give yourself credit for what you are accomplishing for self, family, work, and move forward with a renewed passion for life.
  44. Be nice to everybody (until they give you reasons not to be nice). Even people that are a-holes most of the time like it when someone is nice. We don’t know what others are going through so try to be nice for as long as possible. When you can no longer be nice, try to walk away and/or ignore the rude/hateful/angry/demeaning/childlike behaviors. If they persist, a quick splash of ice water in the face usually shuts them down.
  45. Be somebody’s “bootstraps”. The fallacy of pulling one’s self up by his/her bootstraps is alive and well. The problem with it is two-fold: 1) Nobody has ever gotten from “here” to “there” entirely via solo effort; 2) Some people don’t have “boots”, let alone the straps to pull them up. Bootstraps, in real terms, are the people that provide the education, opportunities, and access required to do anything in life. Parents/guardians, teachers, mentors, employers, co-workers, friends & extended family, and sometimes perfect strangers, play a role in helping us achieve success. The amount of success we achieve is determined by two connected notions: 1) our individual idea of success; & more importantly 2) the circumstances into which we were born. If you have the opportunity to help a person in any way, do so. Be a part of somebody’s “bootstraps” and see the difference (R.W. Emerson) you can make.
  46. Consider others’ feelings. The owner of the NFL team from Washington refuses to change the name/mascot of his team. He says that the term is used out of respect for Native Americans. And while it’s true that some First Peoples may not take offense with the name, many do. If you still aren’t sure about this and think it’s just being politically correct, imagine this scenario: People start calling your spouse/partner “ass-face”. Not because s/he likes the name, just because said people think it’s fitting. Some even say, “it’s a term of endearment and said out of respect for his/her smart-ass comments” (which doesn’t make any sense to you or your spouse). You really hate the name but can’t convince others to stop using it because they think it’s ok. The situation in Washington D.C. is different in-so-far as it pertains to several million people being offended, as opposed to one.
  47. Eat healthy. A lot of healthy foods can be expensive (almonds, wild-caught fish, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh cherries) or kind of expensive (granola, coconuts, blueberries, leaner cuts of meat, chia seeds, olives) but many aren’t (avocadoes, broccoli, peppers, onions, garlic, oatmeal, spinach, brown rice, bananas, sweet potatoes, milk, apples, eggs, fresh pineapple, ginger, & legumes of all sorts).
  48. If ever you are occupying a space that sits more than 10 feet off the ground and you overhear someone remark that they believe the “structural integrity of the edifice may have been compromised…” make your way to the nearest exit as quickly as possible, especially if they look like they know what they are talking about.
  49. Support efforts to end domestic violence
  50. Hold your own, know your name, & go your own way. (Jason Mraz-Details in the Fabric). If you don’t know who you are or what you stand for, figure that out. Don’t let others determine the arc of your existence. Some pretty wise Greeks told us to “Know Thyself“. If we spend our lives constantly conforming to others desires/beliefs, we are not truly living, we are merely surviving. I’m not saying “grab life by the horns and take control of everything around you”, rather, understand the person you are and embrace that being. Work on improving the aspects that you are unhappy with but don’t attempt to make sweeping changes to the self that resides within.

I hope you are able to take away a few ideas for the upcoming year and those acts/concepts make the day-to-day better in some small way.

May 2016 be Healthy, Happy, and filled with Wonderful Surprises.

Salute!

Woo-Hoo New Years!
Woo-Hoo New Year’s is here!

Eating to Live and Living to Eat

Ham ‘n’ havarti between pumpkin waffles with butternut squash soup and 3 bean mélange

 

Food, next to oxygen and hydrogen, is the human races’ most important survival need. A great deal of attention is paid to the foods we eat, the foods we try not to eat, the policies that dictate food production, safety standards, and labeling requirements, and the differing agricultural practices used by small family farms, medium size production sites, and large agribusiness facilities. We count calories and fat and protein and fiber, or we don’t; and we often think about eating healthier—and sometimes we do. But at the end of the day, we eat to sustain our existence; and, if we’re lucky, the foods we enjoy not only provide us with the necessary nutrients to preserve life, but also bring us joy through the flavors, colors, and aromas, that envelop each culinary delight.

One of the more recent trends in the food world (really taking off in the past five years) is the return to local sourcing, specifically with farms that engage in organic and sustainable practices. Restaurants featuring regional fare, school districts working with local producers, and increasing numbers of farmers markets, are all proof that people are 1) demanding food and beverage options that originate in their state or region, 2) are produced on farms that use sustainable and organic or biodynamic practices, and 3) are not just talking the environmental (social entrepreneur) talk, but walking the conservationist/land steward walk.

Amongst grocers, Whole Foods has been at the forefront of this movement. They were the first major grocery chain to be certified organic (2003) and they have been promoting natural and sustainable farming practices since they opened in 1980. They implemented an animal welfare rating system to provide consumers with background information about where Whole Foods sources meat and seafood and how the animals were raised/treated.

The grocer’s most recent policy change comes in the form of a rating system for produce and flowers. NPR produced a piece about this on Morning Edition (12 June 2015). Some organic farmers are upset because they don’t agree with the way Whole Foods is grading their farming practices. These farmers believe that being certified organic is in and of itself a very useful, and adequate, measure of how a farm is operating.

Whole Foods, however, didn’t incorporate the new system as another means of showing off their commitment to organic farming practices; rather, this initiative is intended to highlight those operators (organic & conventional) that are being good stewards of the land. Practices that are not included in organic certification, such as “water conservation, energy use in agriculture, farm worker welfare, [and] waste management” are extremely important to the long-term health of rural eco-systems and the people who work the land (Charles, 2015). This appears, from an outsiders perspective (namely mine), to be aimed at conserving our resources, rather than simply ensuring no pesticides were used. Both ideas, organic production and growing in an eco-friendly responsible manner, should be the goal of anyone interested in sustainability.

The issue of conservation and land stewardship is directly related to the interconnected ideas of eating to live & living to eat. When we choose to buy food and drink that is grown and produced locally, using practices that support the welfare of the land and the farmers, we are choosing to invest in our future and our health (and the health of those we cook for). Furthermore, we have to eat, physiologically speaking; so why not support the local/regional economy when possible. And, as an added bonus, we get to indulge in the amazing flavors that are found in the grains (local craft beer), fruits, and vegetables, that don’t require additives and preservatives to stabilize them for their extended shelf life.

Eating to live comes from necessity. Living to eat comes from those food experiences that we didn’t know were possible—until we savored just picked sweet corn-on-the-cob, tomatoes from the garden, or blueberries plucked from a bush. Support your local farmers, brewers et al., and purveyors of all things connected to your extended neighborhood.

Neither the salad, nor the beer, were OverRated!
Neither the salad, nor the beer, were OverRated!

 

 

 

Recharging Stations:

Modernity has ushered in the age of “Being On”. This new sense of being ever-present (without actually being physically present) has created a society that is losing touch with serenity and what it means to truly relax. Some say it’s inevitable, that we do what we need to do in order to keep up with expectations, whether real or perceived. Others seem to believe that “work-life integration” is the new trend and that we should strive to incorporate individual responsibility into our daily lives (read: “exercise, nutrition, downtime, family/friends” (Battelle, 2015)); which may work great for entrepreneurs or anyone who is not expected to show-up to the job site, but leaves out the vast majority of the workforce. I don’t believe it’s inevitable; nor should we have to integrate work and life in order to maximize the productivity of each. Finding balance between what we do to sustain ourselves/families financially and what we do to maintain our physical, emotional, and mental well-being, should be a top priority. If you love your job, your co-workers, your daily commute, you may require less balancing time, but you still need to recharge your inner-peace and heart, lungs, and muscle fibers.

Krista Tippet’s show, On Being, recently featured (4 June 2015) a discussion entitled “The Art of Stillness”. During her interview with Pico Iyer, a journalist and writer who has studied the idea of tranquility of the mind and body, they talked about recharging stations. This probably brings to mind a charging dock for your electronic devices, at home, or an airport, or work. Pico, however, likes to think about recharging the body and the mind, which has an electrical current of its own. The body’s grid can’t be recharged through traditional chargers plugged into a wall, but it can be revitalized by being present, in the moment. This kind of presence (mindfulness) is very different from being present in the digital world (degrees of mindlessness, multi-tasking, and information overload, the three not being necessarily mutually exclusive).

Presence; nothing more, nothing less.
Presence; nothing more, nothing less.

The scales that display balance between work and life, or school and life, have tipped heavily in favor of work/school. There are many thoughts as to why and how this change happened, all relevant to some extent. But more important is the issue of how to address it. We can’t just say, “f*#k it, I’m going to spend less time engaged in my livelihood,” and we can’t add hours to the day. What we can do is prioritize what’s important. Placing “self-recharging” high on the list is the best way to ensure that one engages in this activity regularly.

Mindfulness, as demonstrated by Jack.
Mindfulness, as demonstrated by Jack.

 

Multi-tasking: not mindful.
Multi-tasking: not mindful.

Taking time to unwind, relax, chill, whatever you want to call it, is healthy for the mind, the soul, and the body. “Unplug” from everything and find your own recharging station. Read a newspaper or a book, an actual ink & paper book, not on a screen. Savor a great cup of coffee or tea early in the morning, while listening to the birds and watching the world awaken. Find a time and place that lets you step away from all that is happening and just be. We probably won’t achieve nirvana, not in this lifetime anyway, but the simple act of existing, and nothing more, on occasion, will help make life more manageable, more enjoyable, and more serene.

IMG_5757

About 26.3 & Beyond

26.3 & Beyond is not a blog/site that is dedicated to those marathoners that choose to go an extra tenth of a mile. Neither is it related to mistrials in a court of law. 26.3 is in reference to the lived experiences of people everywhere.

Regardless of the type of work one is engaged in, it is likely that on occasion you find yourself going that extra mile. The day’s work was completed, or so you thought; but no, one more task requires your attention. And for some, it is simply an anomaly, a break in the routine. Yet, for others, working overtime, or two or three or more jobs, is part of their routine. When they hit that 26.2 marker, 3/4 of the way through their typical day, 26.3 represents the start of the next leg of their daily grind.

Working and going to school; working outside the home and acting as caregiver and homemaker inside the home; working, working, and working, until the day is done; these are the realities of the 26.3ers. We don’t get a medal for finishing each day—but we do get the opportunity to have another go at the world, tomorrow. Ever hopeful, 26.3 is a reminder that while life may not be perfect, not just as we planned it, we can greet each new dawn with the belief that “today” might be the day that something extraordinary happens. 

The reality, as Nelson Mandela once said, is that “after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” And so on we go, one day after the next, one foot in front of the other. Living for the small victories, the reasons to celebrate with family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers on occasion. 26.3 is a number that symbolizes strengthresiliencetenacity/grit, and optimismextreme optimism. So, “When the going gets tough“, and life is hard, don’t hang your head and blubber. Remember, you are part of a crew, a very large, and sometimes motley, crew. Not all full-time members, some seasonal, some part-time, but members just the same. We’re all in this together.

26.3 & Beyond will provide weekly updates (I’m using the terms “weekly” and “updates”, loosely) on topics that affect our daily lives. My intention is to provide insights into the policy issues that are in the national spotlight as well as some that are specific to locales in the 50 states. Additionally, there will be posts when a need for policy action or reform goes unheard; something that is in obvious need of a fix and yet it is not receiving the attention it deserves. If it affects the common man/woman/child, it will likely be covered here.

Faidley's - Best Crab Cakes on Planet Earth: Lexington Market-Baltimore
Faidley’s – Best Crab Cakes on Planet Earth: Lexington Market-Baltimore

This blog will expound on a wide range of subjects and expand the conversation on existing information with personal narratives, peer-reviewed literature, historical insights, empirical analysis, art, music, graphs, experts from around the globe, and a non-sequitur or two for good measure. A sampling of the subjects that will be covered are: education (pre-K to life-long learners), food & drink, health  & wellness (physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional), politics & governance & the role of government, conservation & the environment, economics (both traditional & behavioral), relationships, all facets of the arts, Civil/Women’s/LGBTQ rights, social justice, and ethnicity & the idea of race

What, you may be asking yourself, is the connection between 26.3 and the topics I’ve listed (in addition to numerous other topics)? Well, EVERYTHING. Everything that happens in our life, or doesn’t happen, is affected by policy; and policy is at the heart of almost everything that happens in our world. Policy, in its most basic form, is an idea about how something is to be done. At the lower end of policy procedure we would find things like, rules stating that the six year old who just hit the baseball off the tee must run to first base before advancing to second base. In the corporate world, food service for example, policies relating to hairnets being worn by any person having hair on their head or face would be another type of policy; a bit more serious than the chosen journey around the base path. At the top of the policy food-chain, we find the laws and regulations et al. that are debated, voted on, and subsequently implemented, if passed, or kicked back and re-configured before repeating the cycle (Presidential executive actions being the main exception to this procedure). Or, they are killed off if they don’t fall within the parameters of what is possible, politically, in a given congressional session.

So again, you ask, what’s the connection? Because we are all affected by policies of all shape, size, and color, we should know more about what they do, what they don’t do, what they could do, and what happens if they suddenly cease to exist. Moreover, in the big picture, you don’t know, what you don’t know. So by providing information about policies, potential policies, and ideas that, well, for lack of a better term, suck, you can make more informed choices about which candidate gets your vote, which way you’ll vote on a measure or proposition, and, should you choose not to vote, tell people exactly why you made that choice (though I highly encourage everyone to vote, early, but not often).

26.3ers are busy; and time is indeed our most precious commodity. So if you are interested in learning more about the who, what, and why of the rules/laws/policies that guide your life, spend 10-15 minutes a week here and get caught up on the low-down. In addition to all of the more serious stuff, I’ll include links to goings-on in various locations , eateries-breweries-wineries-distilleries, music (http://eauxclaires.com/) and other art happenings, and matters of historical significance.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Found the place Shel Silverstein was talking about; it's in St. Paul, MN.
Found the place Shel Silverstein was talking about; it’s in St. Paul, MN.

 

 

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