What frightens you the most? I asked this question on Twitter a while back and while the answers were sometimes silly, some were very interesting and serious.
“Boredom” one friends replied. Yeah, I get that. That scares me too.
“Becoming like my father.” Said another. Point taken.
My first thought was mediocrity. The more that rolled around in my brain, the more pretentious and narcissistic that felt. The only judge of my mediocrity should be me, but I would only be able to compare it to the efforts and results of others.
Today, I am going with complacency, which is the enemy of growth.
What I loved about being in college was the constant challenge to better myself, learn and grow. Of course, that challenge is mediated by the large sums of money I paid to be taught those things. Once that mediation was gone, once I found myself finally in the adult world, it was very easy to step back and let it ride.
Fortunately, I chose to work in the library, a place that again stepped in and demanded I continue to learn new ways to access and find information, better ways to deliver it to patrons. I found myself in school again, this time earning a Masters degree in Library Science.
Something always between me and my innate complacency. Mediation.
I no long have that job, that motivation. No longer something in between, pushing me. I find other ways from time to time, dig myself out of the stagnant water I find it easier and easier to lay down in, be still.
Today has been a hard one and it will only get more difficult. Sadly, a member of the boys birth family died this morning and while we were not very close, I feel the weight of her passing. I don’t know exactly how to tell the boys this and I don’t know how to make them feel better once I do. Maybe that isn’t the point.
It is hard to not focus on how this affects me but it does make that complacency seem more dangerous than ever. Every cliche rears its head. No one is guaranteed any more time. Live life while you can. Love those around you. Tell people what they mean to you. Swallow your fear and embrace the world and all the pain and joy it brings.
Yeah, they are all good things.
Have an answer yet?
45 minutes straight up hill then to the right, dodging inconsiderate snow piles, left by home owners either obtuse or mean spirited. Certainly someone will have to walk here and the dangerous ice, all three inches of it, cannot be easily avoided.
I walk in the street, occasionally grabbing snow from large shoveled piles. Remembering a time when I had not only speed, but accuracy, my first few throws are woefully off target and short. I feel old, looking out over the snow covered valley. Everything was different before, like always, but this particular day is black and white over my head, color on the horizon. I like how it looks and steal a photograph, but it refuses to show what I see until I filter it (heavy black/gray clouds, yellow slivers in the distance).
I decide to try again. Large snow ball in my right hand, I squeeze it tightly, water rushing down my fingers and to the pavement. My first target, a manhole cover. I hit three inches short, but this is better. The next snow globe lands directly on the double yellow center line and I am pleased. A final throw at a tar line and my aim is true, The snow explodes in fragments and I am reminded of other days like this, snow in my sleeves and down my shoes, warming my fingers on Christmas lights, hiding in the heavy fog of another cold February.
I see my 14 year old self, walking deep out along the tilled furrows into the field. Closing my eyes, I dig my foot into the soil and spin, spin, spin until I feel the vomit pushing itself up. I fall to the ground, half lying, half sitting one elbow propping me up. Open my eyes and look around. I can hear the sounds of the road to the South, but as soon as I am certain, the fog shifts the vibrations and I am no longer as convinced of direction. Even the shadows play off each other and I am certain this will be the death of me.
Then I see them, hiding behind a berm near the canal. My friends. I pretend not to notice them. They laugh.
Everything worth reading about Johnny Cash has already been written.
I am going to add my voice to many others praising the end of his career as the best part of it. If you somehow have avoided listening to his American albums, repent now and do better. Rick Rubin and Cash put out 6 of the best records I have ever heard. Most of the songs are covers, many of them including guest artists, each song signature Cash. The emotion these songs carry often overwhelms me. Cash knew he was at the end of not only his epic music career, but his life and he sings the songs he wants to, the way he wants to, with who he wants.
Don’t forget to listen to every song on the box set of outtakes and alternate tracks as well. Unearthed is worth twice what you will pay for it.
I am grateful for this music. You should be too.
Down There by the Train– from American Recordings
Rusty Cage-From Unchained, this version is from the Jay Leno performance.
I Won’t Back Down-From Solitary Man
Sam Hall– From When the Man Comes Around.
Help Me– From A Hundred Highways.
For the Good Times-From Ain’t no Grave. The first of this video has a very cheesy soundtrack but points out this record was recorded after the Death of June Carter Cash.
Devil’s Right Hand-From Unearthed. This is so amazing. Just Cash and a dirty electric guitar. A perfect song.
When I ponder my life, a central question keeps demanding attention. The answer is important to me, but it is the question itself which defines my world view.
Are my choices and actions only determined by what reward they provide me?
I am most happy when I answer no.
I like to believe I would still be a good, happy person without external motivation to be so. I like to think I help others and do good because it is the right thing, not because of some perceived reward (or perhaps even more interesting, a perceived punishment) .
Unfortunately, the answer is never definitive. My actions often do bring some compensation. Simple things, things we all understand-A thank you. The look on someone’s face. The joy of helping another person or that satisfaction of accomplishing a difficult task.
But if none of that occurred, would that change anything? If there was no reward, would you still behave and act the way you do now? I believe moral behavior should be beyond such things.
The things I do and don’t believe have everything to do with my answer. They probably do for you as well. In the end, those things determine the integrity of our lives and our actions.
“Who are you, I really wanna know?”
I have always been a sucker for nostalgia. Few things make me more happily morose than going through old photos, yearbooks, letters, papers and letting my mind wander. Sometimes that feeling gets a bit overwhelming. Sometimes I feel the need to write about it.
We adopted the boys in July of 2008, but there was nearly a year before that when they lived with us. During that time, we wanted them to feel comfortable and safe so rather than make them call us mom and dad, we encouraged them to call us whatever they wanted to-Ryan, Sheryl, Mom or dad, and my personal favorite, awesome dudes.
I was surprisingly uncomfortable being called dad. Hearing their little voices calling me by name felt much more natural.
After the adoption (maybe because then I finally wanted to feel like one), I began to insist on being called dad. Now when they jokingly call me by name, I feel that same discomfort. Funny how things change.
When you live with children, it is easy to not notice them growing. Since we missed out on the first seven years of their lives, they have always seemed fully formed to me. It is with amazement that today, I go through some older photos and realize just how much they have grown, how those little boys are long gone and these almost teens now inhabit my home.
I thought it would be fun to share some images of these fine lads.
These haircuts have to be the worst. They never fit, were always counter to their personalities. I think we went almost a full year before cutting it again.
When I look at this picture, I try to imagine how they must have felt-another home that wasn’t with their mother. New people to care for them. Would anything ever be permanent again. These closed mouth smiles tell the story.
Two-huge smile on Dylan’s face. Someone told him his teeth (which had been capped) were unattractive and he should never smile with his mouth open.
Three-look at my awesome bookshelf.
The giddy anticipation is evident. I had to force them to pose for one more photo before we left.
Dylan’s huge smile. The same trip.
I think this is taken at Bubba Gump Shrimp. I love the happiness on his face. Too much of their lives had been spent wondering things that small children shouldn’t have to wonder. I like to think that this trip was filled with none of that thinking. Everything was happy and both boys felt completely accepted and loved.
Two years later, the boys and I went back to Disney. What a change! Destry has grown almost four inches and Dylan looks like the suave and sly little devil he is becoming. He still has a long way to go when it comes to fashion sense. With his Christmas combination color combination, he is melting hearts and taking names.
It is during this time when they started pressing out, challenging boundaries. One thing we learned in our parenting class, when t kids start arguing with you, they feel safe. Funny to think about being happy when your kids argue, but it was one of the happiest days of my parenting life.
In this situation, they both came upstairs and looked at the other saying, “serious, the dark blue shirt and dark pants?”
At least Destry changed to the gray slacks.
When they first came to live with us, they were in second grade. You sort of start thinking they will never really grow out of that phase. Then suddenly, without realizing it, they are about to start middle school, share their opinions about things they never cared about before. They no longer need movies and books explained to them, they get most of the jokes.
This photo really lets the mischievous nature of these lads show through. You can almost see plots forming, plans taking shape, deeds being pondered. What will they do? Who will fall victim to their shenanigans?
Most likely me.
They do clean up nice.
Christmas morning, and what two boys don’t get excited for new sweat pants?
Harder and harder to get a picture of them when they want to be close to each other. For twins, they sure don’t seem to share many interests. Still, they are amazing boys, honest to almost excess, willing to do most anything.
I am lucky to be their father, which I am, regardless of genetics. It took me a while, several years in fact, before I began to really feel like one. I used to imagine myself as a substitute, standing in until they were grown. Someone making sure they survived, learned and grew, but someone who was temporary, a person who they would always be grateful for, look back on fondly, but someone they had lost contact with.
Fortunately for me, my boys don’t let that kind of attitude last. They grow older, wiser and better looking. They let me in on that process, share everything with me, glow at my approval and smile when I am proud of them. Somehow they have grown up, almost without me noticing. I am glad I stopped to pay attention today.
In keeping with my determination to actually write, I have stumbled upon something that is helping me. I’m calling it the “daily paragraph” exercise.
Simple enough, it is exactly what it sounds like. Every day (well, weekdays right now) I sit down at the computer and for ten or fifteen minutes, I write. Write, write, write, anything. I set a limit of no more than five paragraphs. I am writing about the weather, a dream, food, past memories, current computer problems, made up trauma, drama, anything and everything.
What surprises me is how little I edit. I still can’t just throw words on the page, and I am constantly restructuring sentences or phrases, but I refuse to dwell on things to the point of stagnation. In the past, any paragraph that didn’t feel complete was reworked, lingered over, until it felt done. The daily paragraph is such a different feel. It gets to be more free flow, it gets to be imperfect.
If I feel the need to write something more than five paragraphs, I am free to open a new page and write there, but the daily paragraph remains unaltered. When I read through them (which I have only done twice), I am surprised by how much I enjoy them. Of course they are raw, a bit overdone in places, too sparse in others, disjointed at times, but they feel more like the writing I want to do.
I am encouraged for certain.