Words in My Head

Spilling on the page...

Category: Rants

Shallow waters and ripples

At what point did I, as a youth, pull my head out of my ass and actually take a look at the world? I have to wonder now, as I approach 50, and marvel at how some folks seem to see things these days.

The world does not owe us anything. Neither do the people in it. We get what we get and try to make the best of it. If we don’t like it, we do our best to change what we can and move on. That’s it. End of story.

Maybe I’m jaded, but I don’t expect others to do shit for me these days. In fact, I hardly ask anybody for anything any more. Why be disappointed when it doesn’t happen? Or if it does happen, why be disappointed by the way in which it’s executed if it’s not up to our high standards?

I used to expect things of people. In fact, I thought the Golden Rule was meant to convey that if I treated people the way I wanted to be treated, I’d be treated better. Turns out that’s a fallacy. It’s bullshit. You treat people the best you can because that’s what decent people do — and you don’t expect anything in return. You just hope they’re decent people too.

Now I won’t say this attitude isn’t a new thing for me, since I often sound like a broken record when dealing with my daughters; telling them “You can only control one thing in the world — you.” I think it’s just taken this long to finally sink into my own thick head.

I recently read somewhere that instead of railing against the world and how it is constantly acting against you that you should simply say “yes” and roll with events as best you can. That one little piece of advice has changed my point of view greatly.

Ask my family — I have always been hung up on my preconceived notions of how events should play out. So far as I can tell, nothing ever goes according to plan and never works out the way it does in my head. The disconnect between those two things has always been a problem for me. I have alternated between angry, depressed, or sad when that happens — not that it changed anything.

Now I still get a little hung up these days, but not nearly as badly. As my sister might say, I “pulled the stick out of my ass.” And it’s about time.

So when I see some of the folks I know and love get pissed off at the world or the people in it because they didn’t get something they wanted or someone else didn’t get what they wanted or even that someone they don’t feel is deserving of something gets something good… it gets under my skin a little. I know how it feels to not have things go according to plan. But I think to myself that they better get used to it. The world isn’t going to bow down and give them everything they think they deserve unless they’re very very lucky.

I don’t know anybody that lucky. Everything has a cost.

What really ticks me off is that I hear some of these folks badmouth people whose decisions they don’t agree with. I’m not saying you can’t disagree with others, but unless they’re really pushovers, your opinion isn’t going to mean much. And why should it? They have exerted the power in their lives to make decisions. After all, that’s all they can really do as individuals, isn’t it?

As a result, we are left with ripples on the pond we all float on. We can choose to fight the ripples and ultimately rock the boat, but all we’re really doing is getting ourselves wet in the process and maybe splashing them with some inconvenience. Or we can ride the wave and see where it takes us. If it’s not in the right direction and we have the power to change paths, we can do so. If not, all we can do is roll with it until it ends.

And who are we to second guess some of the folks who make the decisions we are not in control of? They have their own lives and bodies of experience to pull from and I bet they’re making the best decision they can with the information they have at their disposal, both from past life experience and whatever just happened today. Who says your decision would be better than theirs, knowing what they know?

So to those people rankled by the decisions of others, I wish you luck fighting the waves. If you can’t go with the flow, do your best to change boats or ride it out until the next opportunity for change presents itself. To change, you have to put an oar in the water and that causes its own ripples. Just keep in mind that your ripples may affect others just like the ones that affect you.

For now I’m going to choose to go with the flow on this one. It’s the only logical choice I can make. After all, I don’t have any control over anyone else’s behavior but mine anyway.

A Messy, Detached Mind

The last few weeks have been a long mental struggle for me. I can’t point to any single element that’s the cause, just the combined weights of myriad stressors and challenges without end. The bad part is I know there are other people with much larger pressures and challenges, so I even feel guilty writing about what is essentially me quietly going crazy for no good reason.

But let me back up. I’m not crazy. I’m human. And though I understand that other people are going through much worse situations than I am, this is important. So for a time, I’m going to toss off the yoke of unnecessary angst and guilt and talk about the positives and negatives I’ve noticed of late.

First, the positive…

I’ve never been someone who enjoys conflict. It is emotionally draining and mentally crushes me as I do everything I can to avoid it. And this week I had something arise that I always knew in the back of my mind could come up as a blogger, but never had to deal with myself. (The situation is still evolving or I’d write about it here. Suffice it to say I had to chat with two friends about it – my business partner and a high school friend who is a lawyer. They are helping me deal with it as things develop.)

Yeah, I know – that sounds pretty negative. And it is. The positive was the weird way my brain processed this event.

Lately I’ve been reading more about the Stoics like Marcus Aurelius and listening to folks like Mark Manson (The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck) and Aubrey Marcus (Own the Day, Own Your Life). And generally just trying to chill the f*ck out. I’ve always lived too much in my head, making mountains of mole hills. My last few years of learning to love CrossFit has changed my mental outlook to embrace adversity and change much better than ever before.  And it helps that my wife, a force of nature, has been whittling down my resistance to change over the last two decades.

Apparently that has all added up, internally, to a better head space for me.

As the events unfolded in my e-mail and chatting with my friends about the situation, I became almost detached. I watched as my emotions bubbled up as always, with panic, fear, and anger, but it was as though they belonged to someone else. The rational part of my brain apparently decided they wouldn’t do me any good anyway, so it just shoved them to the side in a safe space and let them go while it processed the rest of it mentally.

It was bizarre. And awesome. Though the whole situation is infuriating, it didn’t overwhelm me emotionally like it might have in the past.

So that’s a positive amidst all the crap on that front (and the next).

Then, the negative…

Adulting sucks. I have a billion things going on that I need to do. Some for work. Some for home. Some for my family. Some for my publishing business. It’s all piling on.  And I know I’m not handling with all of that well.

I’ve tried some different things with to-do lists and they lasted a week as the overwhelm rose and fall in waves. So now I’m just trying to deal with things as I remember them and have the bandwidth to do so. Some days are better than others. And I’m coping, but not well.  (Remember that guilt I cavalierly tossed away earlier in the article? It’s back with a vengeance.)

So here’s my request for help. Does anybody have coping strategies for how to deal with the overwhelming minutiae of modern life? I’m interested in hearing about them.

Let me know.

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.

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.


Stop means stop

There are only a few things these days that really get my blood boiling. I’ve mellowed with age. And though I still have some pet peeves, I try not to let them out into the world much. Most of them are idiot things that are more about how I’m reacting (poorly) to something someone else is doing, so I’m attempting to let them go as much as possible. After all, I can’t control them. I can only control me. So letting that go makes a lot of sense.

One of the things that I can’t let go is not stopping at stop signs. It drives me batty.

We have an elementary school not two blocks from my house. It has stop signs all over and I watch people do everything BUT stop. I’ve seen them:

  • slow down but never actually stop
  • slow down, tap their brake pedal for a second, and keep on going
  • roll on through without even looking

Um. It’s not there as a decoration. And they do it everywhere, not just the school zone near my house. Parking lots. Stoplights where they’re turning right. Anywhere they just don’t want to be bothered.

I’ve told my daughters that if I catch them not stopping at stop signs when they drive, that they won’t be driving long.

The purpose of these signs is to make us stop, usually for a good reason. School zones are one. People in parking lots are another. And residential areas in general is a third. People speed through our neighborhood all the time and it bugs the heck out of me.

In an age when distracted driving is at an all time high with cell phones, dancing to the radio, being overstressed and overtired, it’s amazing that more people aren’t in accidents every day. If we stop, look around, and take a breath to make sure there are no people, cars, animals, or kids in the way, does it really slow us down all that much?


The answer is no, it doesn’t.

So please stop at stop signs and pay attention to what’s going on around you. They’re there for a reason.

And it might just save a life. Yours. A neighbor. A complete stranger. Who knows?

© 2019 Words in My Head

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑