Words in My Head

Spilling on the page...

Accepting Compliments is Impossible

One of the challenges I have had to try and overcome in the last 25 years has been accepting compliments from people. And yes, I know that sounds weird.

Many years ago at a Christmas party, we had a “Talent Show” of sorts and I sang and played guitar on stage. We did it two separate years and I don’t remember which year it was, whether it was when Dave G and I played “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel, or another year when I performed but honestly don’t remember what I sang. Might have been a Christmas song even. But the daughter of a coworker complimented me on the performance and I essentially rebuffed it, telling her I was crap. Her response was that I really needed to learn how to take a compliment.

She wasn’t wrong.

These days I have become a bit better at it, choosing to say “thank you” and leave my own opinion out of my response. But inward, I’m still harsh and usually tell myself all sorts of entertaining stories to convince myself it’s not true.

Today, for instance, Coach Drea complimented my ability to push through today’s workout, noting that she can see the change that’s come from the changes we’ve been doing through the nutrition challenge. And I said “thank you” and let it go at that as I cleaned up my equipment. But on the way home, inwardly it was a different story.

Let me preface this next part by saying this has NOTHING TO DO with Drea. She’s an amazing person and coach and I value her has a friend, this is just purely my brain ticking off the ways she must be wrong. So again, I’m not saying any of this crap is true — the opposite in fact.

Watching my inner dialog, I questioned her intent.  She was encouraging me as a coach simply because it was her job to do so and she wanted me to continue paying my monthly membership fees. She was encouraging me because she wanted me to continue on the nutrition challenge and not give up (we’re on day 12 of a 62 day challenge).

Let’s walk through the bullshit factor in those statements. The nutrition challenge is free to members. I’ve been a member for nearly 5 years, so it’s not like that’s going to change unless something drastic happens. She is ALWAYS very positive and every day asks how we’re doing, what she can do to help, and is a wonderful person.

Her intent is pure. But inwardly I still beat myself up about various things. I could have done better. I can always do better. I should have run more. I should have done more weight or larger sets. I should do more mobility to take care of the grip issues plaguing my left hand and forearm.

As a result, her compliments were meaningless to my inner dialog because the inner critic rules the roost most of the time. How’s that for twisted?

I was even encouraging to every other athlete at the box this morning — cheering on Carrie, Logan, and Nick as they fought through the same workout I was doing. It was easier than listening to the supportive comments from other athletes like Caleb & Bill who were cheering me on.

Yeah, my brain is a mess.

Several weeks  ago, Coach Nicole asked me to focus on the positive in my write-ups more than the negatives. It’s something I need to do more often.  Nit-picking is so much easier than looking for the good things that are all around and within me. Family. Friends. Happy things. Life is good if I look at it the right way. There will always be issues, but the good usually outweighs the bad.

So moving forward, I am working VERY hard on being more positive. Accepting things as they are in the moment. And being more thankful for the positive vibes I get from those around me.

An impossible task? Perhaps. But it’s time to make some changes. I fight change constantly, though it’s truly the only constant in the universe.

Who’s with me?

A Simple Philosophy for Living

Getting older, I really hope I’m getting wiser. But some recent events have made me take a look at my own views, prejudices, and behaviors, in an attempt to codify things a bit better. Another case of “simplify, simplify, simplify” at work here…

Brian’s Rules for Life

Be kind as often as possible. Most of us know what WE have been through, but not what others have endured on their own journeys. It pays dividends to be nice to people on general principle, which then hopefully makes other people be nicer to you in return. Or perhaps nicer to other people down the line. One kind deed can create a landslide of good.

But, as Dalton (Patrick Swayze) says in the movie Road Housebe nice until it’s time not to be nice.  Sure, you can be kind to everybody, but at some point you have to stand up for yourself and others to say that enough is enough. That is simpler than it sounds and downright impossible to consider in many circumstances.  Fear is a powerful motivator to avoid conflict. However, bravery is acting despite that fear. Is it worth fighting for? Then fight if kindness and words won’t do the job. (This is something I struggle with because I’m severely conflict-averse.)

Listen more than you speak. If you do it right, you’ll know many things you may not wish to. If you listen, truly listen, complete strangers will tell you their life stories and you’ll begin to piece together some of the interesting tales that surround you. As a writer, I’m always watching and listening, and sometimes I even contribute — but mostly I ask questions and listen to the answers, filing things away to form a more complete picture of the world.

Accept the consequences for your actions. Good and bad. (I have a harder time accepting praise than accepting my failures. That’s still a challenge.)

But guess what? You’re going to screw up. I screw up all the time, but I also try to fix it. And sometimes trying to fix it makes it worse, but at least you’re acknowledging the issue in the first place. Some things can’t be fixed. That’s a hard truth. And the price for screwing up may be huge. But the price for hiding, running, or ignoring the consequences ALSO has consequences, so get ahead of it if you can.

Along those same lines, tell the truth as best you can. You may want to spare someone’s feelings from facts that may be difficult to accept, but if you remember to be kind, truth is its own kindness. Because lies, like screw-ups, have consequences. And just from a practical standpoint, it’s easier to remember one story than to make up and try to remember a bunch of lies.  (BTW, telling the truth goes doubly for yourself. Lying to yourself is never a good option.)

Karma’s a bitch. Sorry Karma. Ultimately I believe that you reap what you sow, so pay the consequences as quickly as possible or they may gather interest and spiral even further out of control. Build a life on a bed of lies and I think you’ll pay for it in the end. Be good and kind to yourself and others and hopefully that comes back in unexpected ways down the line.

Through it all, remember to take time for yourself and be kind to yourself. This is a hard one for me because I try to do what I can for those I love, usually at my own expense. It feels selfish to do otherwise, but if you don’t do it, you will find that your well of energy to help others may hit bottom.

Finally…

In a perfect world, we would all work together. I would help you. You would help me. We would find fulfilling tasks to fill our time doing things we were passionate about and care deeply for.

Ours is not a perfect world. We can’t change that. But we can control our own actions and serve as good examples for others to follow, hoping that we become the change we want to see in the world.

We are not perfect. Our world is not perfect. And we are stronger for the differences and flaws we have as a community. But if we are kind to one another, try to do the right thing, and remember to be kind to ourselves along the way, we’d go a long way towards making it a better world to live in, imperfections and all. 

Peace.

Staying Positive in a Whirlwind

Mid-life crisis or not, it doesn’t change the fact that my life is caught in a perpetual whirlwind of commitments. School events. Soccer. Street Petz. Work. Crossfit. And then I get whatever’s left, though there usually isn’t much left.

So how do I stay positive and cheerful in the midst of the howling tornado raging around me? Damn good question.

Here’s a few things I’m working on and a few others I want to do more frequently.

Gratitude. I’m working on getting a bit of gratitude practice into every day. Some days it works. Some days it doesn’t. Some days I forget. But focusing on the things that go right rather than the ones that don’t definitely helps a bit change the narrative from “today was a shitty day” to “this happened and it was a good thing.” A subtle shift, but an important one.

Endorphins. Honestly I think without the endorphins released during Crossfit workouts I’d be in a lot worse shape than I already am — literally and figuratively. I can tell on the days I don’t work out that something is missing. Pushing myself physically releases a great natural high that I have come to enjoy and depend on for a boost during my day. I just wish my body (and schedule) could handle working out daily vs. the 3-5 workouts I fit in already.

And yes, I’m aware that sounds a bit like an addiction. But isn’t a healthy addiction preferable to other ways to get a high?

Escape. I love reading a good book — especially what I term “bubblegum” fiction. Those are the stories that are just fun to read and don’t require a ton of extra thought to comprehend. I enjoy media in that same way, preferring stuff that entertains me and gives me that escape. Unfortunately I watch far too much TV (it’s an easy trap) and catch far too few movies (more difficult to squeak into the schedule). And I don’t spend enough time enjoying good music the way I used to.

Perhaps it’s time to adjust media consumption a bit more.

Creativity. Writing. Yes, you knew that had to come in here. I need to do more. Some is personal, like this drivel. 🙂 Other bits are for games I’m working on. And I’d really like to get back to trying some fiction. I’m awful at it, but it only gets better with practice.

Same with drawing. At some point in my childhood I decided I was a crap artist and just… stopped. I want to start again to entertain that part of my soul again.

Music. That would also be good. My guitar is collecting dust. I thought by leaving it beside my desk it would get more use… Nope. Time to clean it up and warble along slightly out of tune again.

And games. Damn I forgot how much fun it is to play a role-playing game on a regular basis and guide the story. Doesn’t mean I know where it’s going to end up. This is collaborative storytelling, folks… A group of people enjoying a shared tale and seeing where it goes. Never tried it?  You should! Even crazy things like Cards Against Humanity can really liven up an evening and raise the laughter levels.

Do you notice how a lot of these activities are solo? That’s the introvert in me and why I’m so thankful for the ones that aren’t. When I lived alone, I spent a lot of my time lonely. Now I’m hardly ever lonely because I have a family and friends. But crossfit and gaming are not solo activities and have pulled me out of that realm. Sharing some of these other things may do the same.

So how do YOU stay positive and cheerful in the maelstrom of your lives? Curious people want to know (read: me!). Leave comments!

Mid-Life Crisis Ahead?

Mid-life crisis. It’s a term that gets thrown around quite a bit. Ever had one?

I’m not sure mine qualifies, but let’s examine the facts and look at a few key moments. Somehow, I think I’ve been an adult for my whole life.

Here’s the “More than you ever wanted to know about Fitz” portion of this post.

I’ve been working since I was 16 and only had one break around 1998 or 1999 when I took an unpaid month-long sabbatical from work that only lasted two weeks. Put everything I owned in storage and drove through New Mexico, Arizona, California, Utah, and Wyoming on that trip. Had a good time in Taos. Saw the Meteor Crater in Arizona. Made it to the beach in San Diego. Stayed at the Luxor in Las Vegas. Saw the Great Salt Lake in Utah. But got bored and decided to return home. Traveling alone wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Moved into a new apartment across the street from the old one I’d vacated a month prior and settled back into my same old job. True story.

Then my best friend, Sean, passed away suddenly in a car accident. My world changed overnight. When I turned 30, I dwelled obsessively over the fact that I was moving past the age he was when he died. It was a difficult situation made better by my then-girlfriend at the time, Ev, and my good friends Dino and Kevin. We went to Vegas and had a blast. And that was the trip where the “Rainman incident” occurred at a Blackjack table as a highlight of the trip.

A few months later, I was married and a few months after that we had our first child and moved to Arizona. In little more than a year, my entire life changed dramatically and I was just catching up.  With a new child, a new wife, and a new life in a state where I knew nobody at all, I was cast adrift for a good while. It eventually settled down, but those first couple of years were a bit rough.

When I was 35, we had just moved back to Colorado Springs and I was living alone in the house we had just purchased, waiting for the rest of the family — Ev, Mickey, and newborn AJ — to get here. It was a bit of a dark time, but was brightened when they arrived and we began settling in. More craziness as we got our bearings and school started for both of them.

But over the next few years, working from home, I became more and more isolated. By the time I was 42, I was overweight enough I could have gone one of two ways… Continued on the trek I was on and likely eaten myself into an early grave, or achieved control of that part of my life and start crossfit. I did the latter in 2013. Thank goodness I did.

Now, I’m struggling again. Work isn’t fulfilling me like it has for a very long time. And in the last year I rediscovered my love for writing and playing games. A lot of that came as I opened up, gained confidence, and got fitter through crossfit.

Seems that every few years we get a major shake-up that puts the crisis on hold as we regain our bearings. The last one was 11 years ago. It’s been a while.

And now I want more for myself again, which is weird. More fulfillment? What a concept.

Plus I can see the writing on the wall as far as major changes down the line. Mickey will graduate high school next year. AJ four years past her. That’s five years until empty nest begins. What will we do then? Ev will likely still be going a million miles an hour in 18 directions at once. And I’ll likely still be holding the line.

I’m just not sure holding the line is enough any more.

Actually I’m pretty sure that it isn’t.

But where do I go from here? Adulting is hard. Need the corporate gig unless we suddenly win the lottery.

Yeah, maybe it’s a mid-life crisis.

Sigh.

Role-playing Games as an Adult

A few words ahead of this article. This didn’t start out as a blog post. It started as a Facebook update and grew to the point where there was no way it was just a status any longer. So here it goes.

Wendelyn Reishcl, who I was recently introduced to via e-mail by Alan Bahr, wrote a great article at Gnome Stew today about the impact that role-playing has had on her own life. A great article. And the more I thought about it, the more I knew I needed to write a bit of a response.

You can find her article here. I’ll wait if you want to go check it out…

Back already? Cool.

I know that a lot of people look at me askew when I tell them I play role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons or better yet when I tell them I write for such games as an adult. Why not just ditch the kid stuff and grow up already? The judgment in some folks’ eyes is harsh at times, but I’ve learned to deal with it.

I’ve been playing some form of role-playing games since I was 12. That’s 35 years, folks. Nearing four decades. And in every single decade, it’s made a difference in my life.

Wendelyn​ writes about how playing a role-playing game has helped her cope with the loss of a parent. I can’t pretend to know what that’s like. Someday it’ll happen and I won’t be ready when it does, but hopefully I can work through it.

Even so, I do see my role-playing sessions as a way of embracing several tasks at once.

  1. My primary task for many things is having fun. We all need more fun in our lives. At every game session, I usually am throwing awful jokes and puns around, if not just doing simply goofy things in the name of “character development.” And that shared camaraderie at the table, even among strangers, is a powerful motivator. I’m not the most social person in the world, but there’s something about cracking a joke and sharing a laugh after making a cool move, an awful die roll, or a poor decision that never gets old.
  2. Second, I’m always on a quest for a good story. Anybody who knows me knows I read a lot when I can, usually for enjoyment. It’s an escape. A way of dropping away from the world for a bit and exploring another landscape in my mind. But it’s a solitary venture. Tabletop role-playing takes that element of story and makes it a shared experience. When I play at the game table, I never know exactly where the story is going to take us because of that human element — and that spirit of discovery creates a spark that rekindles my creativity.
  3. Third, exploration of sometimes complex or controversial topics in a safe environment. This is a biggie, especially when role-playing with my kids. The idea that the game table is a safe space and you can get crazy and try different things (within reason) is very, very important to me. And as an adult — especially as a game master running a game, I often use these stories to explore ideas bigger than myself. The themes of inclusion and exclusion often come into play. Hard moral choices. Challenging decisions with no clear winner or loser. Sure, the games are about fun, but they’re also about exploring the edges of the human condition so we can empathize with others in a more meaningful way.

So… Having fun and telling stories, with sometimes complex themes, in a safe environment with empathetic folks. Doesn’t sound like an awful time, does it?

I can’t think of a time at a game table where I haven’t successfully hit at least one of those three points, but it’s rare to hit all of them in a single session. Doesn’t mean I don’t aim for that. 🙂

Other people choose other ways to enhance their lives and escape for a bit. We’re encouraged to find our bliss, right? Well, this is mine.

 

Parental Struggles: Violence in Sport

Ok, it’s time to come clean. I’m struggling with something I have to admit I’ve never really had to deal with until now but is something I’ve wondered about with other parents. You know those folks who don’t want their kids playing sports because they might get hurt? I get it now.

This Labor Day weekend we had both our kids playing in a tournament in Denver. Thankfully they both played on the same fields at times that worked for watching both of them play every day instead of having to divide and conquer across the state to make games (topic for another post). So we all went up together in the late summer heat and the haze from late summer wildfires across the US drifting lazily across our state.

They play in two different age groups. One plays high school and one plays U13. So we’re looking at a couple of different levels of play here. The high school aged girls are battle tested and have been playing for a decade or more in some cases. The U13 players are just midway through that span, with anywhere from 5 to 7 years or so.

Some more, some less. I’m not making snap judgments here, just identifying a gap not only in skill level but experience.

Mickey, now 16 going on 17, had her first major ankle sprain a few weeks ago in another tournament. AJ, now 12, has been playing goalie for years and has an array of rough spots, from ankles and knees to shoulders and wrists. They have friends who have had knee surgery, physical therapy, and heaven knows what else.

But let me get back on topic.

My wife plays soccer. Both daughters play soccer. We’ve seen indoor, outdoor, and Futsal (another brand of indoor) in some variety every year since I married my wife and it’s only ramped up since then with both girls playing competitively since they were in kindergarten or so.

Suffice it to say, that’s a lot of soccer. We’ve had many different coaches. Most good. A few bad apples. But usually the games are more about playing hard and doing your best than anything else.

On Saturday I watched that suddenly change and now I’m both furious and terrified.

In all the years and games I’ve watched my kids play, I’ve never seen anybody carded. Yes, I’ve heard tales. Sure, I’ve seen warnings. But never an actual card, yellow or red.

Saturday, I watched the opposing team get two yellow cards. And I watched our goalie Kate, who I’ve watched grow up with Mickey and consider another one of our extended family, get hammered. Repeatedly. She was in pain. She was frustrated. And she played through it, somehow. I would have quit or tried to rip the other girl’s arms and legs off by that point. The other team was deliberately targeting her, even after she was obviously hurt and they were winning.

I also watched AJ struggle on the field, but it wasn’t at the same level. Skill and judgment errors. Learning opportunities. Not violence targeted against our players.

Sunday, I watched AJ struggle again. And I watched her hurt herself during a dive. She landed hard and hurt a shoulder she’s hurt before. And she came out of the game. She’ll be fine over time, but it was not fun to watch and less fun for her to endure.

And then I tried to watch Mickey’s team play. After I watched a girl target Kate a few times and then watched Kate slide for the ball and take a girl out with her, I had to walk away. Kate’s mom was doing everything she could beside us not to scream bloody murder. I totally understood that after watching AJ get hurt on her own and then watching Kate get pummeled and do some pummeling.

I had to walk away.

That opposing team also got two yellow cards before the game was done.

I’ve sat through a lot of games. All across the state. And I have watched these girls play hard and get hurt most years. I can’t sit and watch as another team systematically attempts to hurt them — DELIBERATELY — on a playing field. I will be at many games this year, but I’m not sure how many I’ll be able to watch from start to finish.

Good sportsmanship. Good skills. Playing hard. Doing your best. Those are things I admire and can support. I don’t give a crap about who wins or loses.

Playing deliberately to hurt players and take them out of the game? To hell with that.

The levels of what I can tolerate as far as deliberate violence have never been high. Sure, I have watched years of college and professional football. But I can’t watch boxing or MMA fighting, though I have respect for what they are capable of doing (especially MMA). My father and grandfather used to watch boxing together and I never had the stomach for it. Hitting someone for sport was not something I could fathom.

That hasn’t changed and now that it’s my own kids — it’s even harder.

So to those parents who can’t stand to see their play sports because they might get hurt? I have a different perspective now. And I get it a bit more.

A Climate of Hate

By now, I hope my daughters have seen the man I try to be every day. Not just when they’re watching, but even when nobody else is around. Character is defined by what we do when we think nobody is watching. But living a life of trying to lead by example, I’m struck by how I see the world these days.

The events in Charlottesville are unbelievable. I can’t wrap my head around the kind of hate necessary to drive into a group of people at speed. It boggles my mind, honestly. And unfortunately it’s not an isolated incident.

If I take a step back however, I think it comes down to the idea that many of us seem to think that our everyday actions lack consequences.

Nearly every day, I see one or more of these behaviors:

  • Not stopping at a stop sign simply because there’s nobody else waiting, nobody is walking, and there isn’t a cop watching the scene to hold you accountable for your actions.
  • Staring at your phone while in a group of people because whatever the other people are doing is less important than the microcosm of activity on your tiny device.
  • Not stopping to listen to an authority figure such as a coach, teacher, or parent, because whatever they’re saying isn’t as important as the thoughts you have in your own head or what they’re saying doesn’t jive with what you believe to be true.
  • Not living your life because you’re too busy living vicariously through the lives and thoughts of others who choose to share their opinions and activities on social media on an almost moment to moment basis.

We’ve encouraged a society of people to believe that their actions have no consequences. We’ve enabled people in our society to stop paying attention to the world around them. We’ve handed our lives over to tiny devices and huge systems run by people and organizations who we don’t really know and we really don’t know what they’re doing with our data.

Beyond giving up my phone, ending my career as a software engineer, and becoming a hermit or joining a monastery far from the influences of “Western” society, I’m not sure how to combat this. And even then I’m, once again, only trying to lead by example.

  • I stop at stop signs because it’s the right thing to do. I try to slow down and take it easy because arriving at my destination is much more important than getting there at the speed of light.
  • I try to put down my phone as often as I can when people are talking to me. The real world trumps the virtual one.
  • I try to listen to what’s going on in the world around me. It’s amazing what I pick up when that happens. And though I may not agree with everything I hear, I have the power to choose not to believe everything I hear and read. Instead, I go with my gut a lot more. And it’s right more often than I’m willing to admit.
  • And I’m guilty of oversharing on social media. I know I am. Do I stop? I just don’t know.

I’m not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination, but some of the teachings in those good books seem pretty good about now. Love thy neighbor. Do unto others as you would have done to you. Respect your elders. Listen. Make the world a better place. All the platitudes we seem to ignore as a population these days. Putting them into practice is the tough part.

My hope is that by doing the things that need to be done, listening as best I can, and being the best person I can given the circumstances of any given moment, it’s enough. I can’t control anybody but myself, so I really do hope it’s enough.

Review: Ghost in the Shell

When Ghost in the Shell was first touted in the media as a live action movie in the works, I was intrigued — but not overly so. I’ve owned the DVD for years and never taken the time to sit down and watch what has been claimed to be one of the pillars of the anime movement. An exploration of what it means to be human using a far flung future where androids and cybernetic human enhancement run wild.

It’s not the first time this idea has been brought to the screen (big or little). Blade Runner covered this back in the 1980s with what I think of as one of the pillars of my geekdom. If artificial creations gain sentience, do they have a soul? (By the way, I’m both intrigued and terrified of the Blade Runner 2049 sequel/follow-up coming out in October. I’m not a Ryan Gosling fan, but am concerned at what they will do to trample on this treasure from my youth.)

Rather than exploring it from the AI side, Ghost in the Shell takes a human mind and stuffs it inside a robot body and asks if it’s still human. As such, I found it more than a little disturbing at how little emotion there actually was throughout the picture. It was as though the main character was so detached that she was unable to even be the conduit through which the audience is drawn into this world.  We know ScarJo can emote — she does it with the Black Widow in the Marvel universe. This was a case where her character wasn’t really allowed that sort of emotional leeway.

And that doesn’t even bring up the whole idea of the whitewashing that occurred. This is a classic Anime piece with traditional Japanese values throughout. It was quite bizarre to see Scarlett Johansson play a character I assumed to be Japanese. She wasn’t alone either, with Takeshi Kitano playing the only true Japanese character in the whole film. It’s not that it didn’t have a good cast, just that it seemed weird that in such an Asian-based world (with Geisha girl robots, painful shoes, and iconic koi fish) we had so many gaijin. It’s possible that was done in the original anime as well, but I doubt it.

I was glad I rented the film instead of going to see it in the theater. Ghost in the Shell was visually stunning. The level of detail in the background and world building was astonishing. I just wish I cared about the main character more. It was an OK film, but mostly forgettable as a character piece for me. I wanted to care more about the characters and really just got distracted by the cool stuff behind her in every scene.

My wife is 29 again

It’s my wife Evelyn’s birthday today. She’s 29 again. And she’s impossible to shop for, so I thought I’d try to put a few words together to describe a bit of what she means to me.

Let me start with a crazy number. Together we’ve put nearly 500,000 miles on our automobiles since we started on this crazy road and that doesn’t even include air miles. First there was her truck and “Black Betty” my first 4Runner. Then there was the silver thing that’s come to be known as “The Street Petz Car.” And in the last couple of years there’s “The New Car.” And they’ve all been all over the place, even coast to coast in some cases. That’s a lot of miles together.

Second, let me follow that up with the fact that without her, I would probably not have traveled even half of that distance over the last 17 years. I have seen and done things that have surprised and even terrified me occasionally, but I have grown as a human being because of it. In return, I have attempted to educate her in the ways of being a geek and now we enjoy many of the same things from super heroes on the big screen to queens and dragons on the little one. Personally, I think I got the better part of that deal.

And lastly, let me try and describe how I see my wife because I may see her differently than the rest of the world.

She is a force of nature. Until recently, I didn’t know which force that was to be honest. But I have decided that she’s like the wind, moving full speed ahead one minute in one direction only to swirl, do a little dance, and shift directions in the next. I cannot compete with that, so I don’t try. Instead, I try to be the stone she wears away like a sculptor, remaining as constant as I can in the face of her indomitable will. At my core, I am the same man I have always been, but she has carved away many of the hard angles so that I don’t get so hung up on things as they fly past in the gale.

She has given us two beautiful, intelligent, strong-willed, crazy daughters we are proud of every day. They will go into the world with more than a few great role models of strong, amazing women behind them every step of the way. And at the heart of that crazy energy is my wife rooting them on with fierce determination, love, and a whole lot of sarcasm.

Today she is 29 again, but at her core she is still the youthful hurricane that knocked me off my feet and has kept me dancing ever since. My hope is that the dance never ends.

Love you hon. Forever and a day, plus one. Happy birthday!

Gratitude is More Than Lip Service

I’ve had enough self entitlement for a while. And though I was once a teenager, I hope to hell I didn’t have my head as firmly implanted up my ass as some folks do at the moment. So I’m going to clear the air with a bit of a rant by expressing three ideas as clearly as I can.

One: Be Grateful for the People Who Help You, Because They Don’t Have To

First, let’s talk about the things that people do for you out of the kindness of their hearts. As a parent, I feel responsible for my children’s well being. And I’d like to see them happy, but usually that’s beyond my control so I focus on the things that I can do.

I promise to put a roof over their head, make sure they have clothes to wear, and food to eat. I promise to make sure that they are afforded both a good education and health care as long as I am able. And to the best of my ability I will try to support their hopes and dreams by providing support and advice whenever I can.

That’s it.

I don’t feel that I’m here to support their social lives and drive them around town to parties with their friends. I don’t feel like I’m here to ensure that they get the latest X or Y because everybody else has one. I’m not always going to say “YES.”  And I’m not going to give them spending money unless I feel they’ve earned it in some way.

They get my love and attention, room and board, clothing, health care, and as much education as we can afford. That’s a pretty good deal.

In addition, when I am able, I try to support their extra-curricular habits. In my house the list of extra-curricular activities starts with soccer, but varies wildly after that. Drama. Choir. Art. Cooking. It gets insane. But there’s a point of no return here. If you push your luck, the next time I will likely be less inclined to help you in your mission of the moment.

I’m not saying that I won’t take them to the occasional party, practice, or shopping spree, but I am saying that I’m not made of time, patience, or money and there are limits to all three.

Two: Gratitude is More Than Lip Service

Second, if you’re in my house, you’re pretty spoiled whether you have two feet or four. We spend way too much money on things we don’t need. We go out to eat too frequently. And we’ve even gone on trips to the other side of the world from time to time. So… spoiled and you have it pretty good.

What I expect in return is that you participate in the household experience, show respect towards family members (both immediate and in our crazy extended family), and express gratitude towards those people who help you out. Otherwise, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

This means that you need to take a good look around you every now and then and examine life beyond your own little world. Help with the dishes. Cook a meal. Clean up a room. Take care of the animals. Offer to do something nice for a change.

But it goes beyond muttering the words “thank you” or “love you” every now and then and trying to isolate yourself more and more. Actions speak louder than words. We do a lot for you without you having to ask us and we would like to think you would do the same.

That hasn’t always been the case. And it wears thin. So refill the gratitude bucket now and then without us badgering us to do so.

Three: Pay it Forward

Lastly, be sure to pay it forward. I’ll explain this with a quote. Babylon-5 was a TV show well ahead of its time. And it had many quotable moments, but one of my favorites was when G’Kar (a warrior and a politician) gave some advice to another character… “The universe is run by the interweaving of three elements: Energy, matter, and enlightened self-interest.” This quote is never far from my mind.

What do I mean by that? Karma is a bitch. If you take the folks for granted who help you daily, it’s going to bite you in the butt eventually. If you are mean, cruel, or rude to them, the payback is that much quicker. The principle of enlightened self-interest is best expressed through the Golden Rule… ” do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matt. 7:12)

Unless you want to be treated like crap, try to treat those around you with kindness, love, and respect at all times. Maybe they don’t deserve it. Maybe you don’t feel like giving it. Doing the right thing is rarely easy all the time. But doing so is in your best interests.

You have been treated kindly by the universe so far. Pay it forward. The universe may not respond in kind immediately, but I bet eventually your kindness will come back to you in spades. It’s a good feedback loop to try and keep going.


Rant over.

 

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