The Unescaped Life

8 12 2015

The Unescaped LifeThis is Seth Godin.

Yeah, he looks kind of quirky, yellow horn-rim glasses and all.  But he has a quote that eats at me every time I see it:

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.”

 

Ouch.

 

We escape life in many ways.  Fantasy.  Substances.  Stuff.  Sex.  Sleep.  Netflix bingeing.  Care to add some others?

 

With the heart and simplicity of a child, this fifty-something thinker challenges us to challenge ourselves.  And the status quo (whatever “quo” is for you).  And “prevailing wisdom.”

One of his books on my shelf is entitled Poke the BoxHow can you not like that?

 

What does an unescaped life look like for you?

A mid-life career change doing something for more passion and less money?

Running a 5K race when you’ve never run anything?

Saying “no” for once instead of being a doormat?

Actually writing something longhand instead of typing or texting with calloused thumbs?

Or better, putting your not-so-smartphone away and actually having eye-to-eye communication with another person…undistracted, all emotionally naked-like (gotta be brave for this one)?

 

I dare you.  I dare you to craft a life you don’t have to put out of your head at 5:00 PM on Friday.

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After A Long Hiatus….

6 12 2015

After A Long HiatusI’ve taken quite a long sabbatical from writing regularly on this blog.  One post in the past sixteen months has been it.  I now intend to return to at least semi-regular, if not regular, contributions to this page.

Much has happened in the past year and a half.  Our eldest daughter married a fine man from the Plains.  Both are now happily ensconced in the Deep South, surrounded by salt water and palm trees.  My wife, Kath, and I visited them a month ago.  A great trip.  They are well.

Our youngest daughter, happily married for the past two years, has moved with her husband, another son of the Plains, thousands of miles away to new tasks.  They, too, are surrounded by palm trees and salt water.

Our vacations will be superb!

Here in northern New York, we recently sold our one hundred and one year-old Victorian farm house and have a smaller apartment close to work.  We are content.  Our home of fourteen years served us well but, with our two daughters married, it was more house than we needed.  So we sold to a fine young family with adorable children.

Candidly, sheer busyness accounts for my writing hiatus, a good bit of it anyways.  But more than that, I’ve learned some things over the past year and a half.  My reading has increased in breadth and depth.  I’ve had the good fortune to be mentored skillfully and have been forced to reevaluate many of my cherished prior commitments about life, human accomplishment and foible, God, reality, and lots of other things.

I hope to share the fine authors and thinkers who’ve helped me grow.  They’ve not been easy on me.  And won’t be easy on you either.  But then again, as a mentor recently admonished me, “Do not be seduced by low-hanging fruit.”  What has value must be extricated at cost and time.

Or, as Sara Groves sings on her newest record Floodplain, “Love is a diamond hidden in mountains, covered in danger and dirt.”

Let’s do this.  Thanks for reading!

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Life, Filtered…Through You

24 08 2015

Life Filtered Through YouWe’ve all heard, at one time or another, that there are no two snowflakes alike.  Science has confirmed this.  It is estimated that there are something like ten quadrillion (that’s 10,000,000,000,000,000) water molecules that make up a snowflake.  Thus, while many snowflakes at the microscopic level appear to be similar, at the molecular level they are all different.

Which brings us to you.

You are unique, to say the least.  And so am I.  At the molecular level, to be sure, but in a number of other areas of involvement, measurement, comparison, etc.

What this means is that each one of us see the world in slightly different ways.  You and I have differing perspectives on everything from this morning’s global sell-off on the world financial markets to the fallout of the Ashley Madison web hack debacle.

We all see things differently.  It’s meant to be that way.

Put another way, we all are positioned in a unique way to see and filter everything locally, nationally and internationally, even cosmically, is different colors, shades, shapes, nuances.

One angle is your time in human history.  Another is your geographic placement (are you Oriental or Occidental?).  How about your embedding in the economic strata?  Your level of education provides you with special tools for this task as well.

The biggest variable is the questions you ask of people and of life.  The late Rabbi Dr. Edwin Friedman shared this anonymous quote before he died: “If you do not have answers, do not feel too badly.  But if you do not have questions, you had better feel your pulse.”  A mentor of mine once told me that he asks questions to get…answers? Wrong.  “To get to better questions.”  The Socratic Method is not going away anytime soon.

You have a place in this world for a reason.  You’re not an accident (I’m a theist.)  When you ask questions, when you speak up and out, you bring–unless you’re a parrot–something unique to the discussion, new light, slightly different perspectives and colors.  And when you do, people gain greater insight.  (Do you really want to leave this to the pundits, the intelligentsia, and mainstream news media on both sides?  I didn’t think so.)

So take life in.  Ask lots of pain in the backside questions of it.  And speak up!

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Bron-Yr-Aur and Creativity

10 07 2014

DCF 1.0I am a guitarist.  I took up this amazing instrument in the mid ‘70’s.  I saw a friend of mine play three songs—“Time In A Bottle”, “Dream On” and “Smoke On the Water”–the riff that launched thousands of guitarists in those days.  I freaked.  And fell in love.  The love affair continues thirty-eight years later.

I owe a great deal of my early formation as a guitarist to Led Zeppelin in general and Jimmy Page in particular.  I learned a lot of the classic rock Zeppelin tunes in those days.  But I was especially drawn to their acoustic work.  It was just so interesting.  Rare chords.  Alternate tunings.  Mandolins.  J.R.R. Tolkien in the lyrics.  A world of wonder and colorful sounds.

A fair amount of Led Zeppelin’s creativity in those days emerged as Jimmy Page and Robert Plant retired to the Welsh cottage pictured above.  Bron-Yr-Aur.  It was here that music was inspired and created that endures to the present day.  Pastoral. No electricity. They even named music after this quaint locale.

Where are your creative spaces?  A cottage?  Water?  Forests (my personal favorite)?  Urban life?

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Giving People A Superior Experience

8 07 2014

3 day Uyuni trip San Pedro to Uyuni, salt flat photos locosA few years ago, I read something from renowned editer and author Sol Stein in his excellent book, Stein On Writing. He wrote that the correct intention for a writer was “to provide the reader with an experience that is superior to the experiences the reader encounters in everyday life.” I was really struck by that because, like many others who write and enjoy it, I do so “because I have something to say” or “need to get something off my chest” or “have a passion for this or that.” Stein’s point is that the focus of our writing is to enhance the life of the reader, give him or her something better than the predictable, workaday experience they currently enjoy or endure. It’s not about me.

I had to ask myself, “How do people experience my place in their lives?” Being honest I had to admit that at times my involvement in the lives of the people I live and work with have energized them. And at other times—being brutally honest—I’ve drained them. Usually the drain part comes when it’s all about me. And the energizing quality comes when I forget me and seek to “provide (name) with an experience that is superior to the experience (name) encounters in everyday life.”

Be honest. How do people experience you?

The world was changed and moved in a seismic way by the work and thinking of the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers. When Steve passed away, I happened to be reading Leander Kahney’s excellent book Inside Steve’s Brain. The one thing that emerged very quickly from my reading was that the experience of the user was one of the absolute core values of Steve Jobs and Apple. Still is. Millions of dollars and countless thousands of work hours were and are spent to provide Apple customers with a superior experience in their interaction with modern technology. Jobs examined every aspect of the experience of an Apple customer and, with his outstanding team, honed it endlessly to ensure that the complex was simplified and that the experience of the buyer—even down to the opening and assembly of a new computer—was superior to anything else out there. Jobs’ solution to the problem of pirating of music (through illegal downloading) was to provide such a superior experience for one visiting the iTunes Store, that one would be willing to pay for the tunes and files they wanted, rather than pirate them. A superior experience as a curative for a moral and economic problem. Brilliant.

Challenge for the day: Ask yourself how people experience your presence in daily life. Be honest and willing to make adjustments, shifts in thinking, learn new stuff, whatever. You may be surprised how people jump out of the woodwork when they see how their lives are enhanced just by being with you—a superior experience.

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Dan Fogelberg: An Appreciation

3 07 2014

Dan Fogelberg - A Living LegacyI first wrote this the night Dan Fogelberg passed away. December 16, 2007. An artist, whose art still inspires.

_____________________

My writing on this blog is usually of a more hortatory nature.  These reflections are personal.  I am saddened this evening as I’ve just gotten word that Dan Fogelberg—an artist of rare and exquisite musical gifting—has passed away after a three year bout with prostate cancer.  Dan was 56 when he died this morning in Maine, his wife Jean at his side.

I am a musician—in fact, a musician long before I ever stepped into the ministry.  Dan Fogelberg’s music has molded me as a musician probably more than any other musician living or dead.  He played both the guitar and the piano beautifully.  He had a lilting voice and an artist’s soul.  He was discovered as an art student in Champaign IL playing in clubs.  Dan had a way with poetry and lyrics that remind us all just how powerful the spoken word is, especially when set to music.

I first gravitated toward Dan’s music with the Phoenix album, which gave us a number of memorable moments, among them “Longer” and “Face The Fire,” Dan’s powerful rebuke of our dependence upon nuclear power in the aftermath of the accident in 1979 at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Harrisburg, PA. Dan was never shy about weighing in on political matters with his gifts.  He was adamant–as am I–that there are better ways to go about settling our international differences than by killing one another.

But it was when I first heard Dan’s moving tribute to his father—Lawrence Peter Fogelberg—that I became a fan for life.  “Leader Of The Band” has been for me the most powerful piece of non-religious music that I have ever known.  His father was a jazz musician and orchestra conductor (teaching band in high school).  His mother was trained in opera.  Dan paid tribute to his parents by thanking his father for his gift of music and his mother for her gift of words.  What they passed on to their son has enriched me for nearly 30 years.  The Innocent Age, the album that gave us “Leader Of The Band” was a double album when released in 1981.  It is called a “song cycle” and is a masterpiece.  Fans of the writings of Thomas Wolfe (Of Time And The River) will be very much at home with the material on The Innocent Age.  And so will many others.

I’m reminded of a story I heard about Dan when he was young and moderately successful.  He was living in a house on Lookout Mountain in Laurel Canyon, outside LA.  He rented a grand piano at his home.  His photographer and friend Henry Diltz remembers one day hearing some of the most incredibly beautiful music he’d ever encountered floating through the canyon, all night long until dawn.  He asked his girlfriend, “Who is this guy?”  Dan had been at it, with discipline and beauty, all night long.  That was Dan.  Vintage Dan.

I was privileged to see Dan in concert once—in June,1985, Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston, MI.  The temperature that evening was in the 40 – 50 degree range.  Dan came out in that cold, drizzling evening—Pine Knob is an outdoor venue—and played for over two solid hours, first solo and then with the Chris Hillman Band.  He’d just released High Country Snows, an intelligent foray into bluegrass, which he loved.  It was an outstanding show, one of the best I’ve ever seen.

The world is a little colder, a little lonelier, a little less friendly this evening.  I leave you with the lyrics to “Leader Of The Band.”  Dan, you will be sorely missed by this middle-aged troubadour.  Thanks for the music and the memories.

Leader Of The Band
An only child alone and wild, a cabinet maker’s son
His hands were meant for different work
And his heart was known to none
He left his home and went his lone and solitary way
And he gave to me a gift I know I never can repay
A quiet man of music denied a simpler fate
He tried to be a soldier once, but his music wouldn’t wait
He earned his love through discipline—a thundering, velvet hand
His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand

(Chorus)
The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band
My brothers’ lives were different for they heard another call
One went to Chicago and the other to St Paul
And I’m in Colorado when I’m not in some hotel
Living out this life I’ve chose and have come to know so well
I thank you for the music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for the kindness and the times when you got tough
And, papa, I don’t think I said ‘I love you’ near enough.
(Chorus)
I am a living legacy to the leader of the band

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Getting Airborne

16 02 2014

FlightIf you’ve ever flown in a large airliner and been seated on or near a wing, you’ll notice that there are adjustments made to the size and configuration of the wings before the pilot begins his takeoff roll.  Flaps and slats are extended, which increases the surface area and shape of the wings.  Large jet aircraft need this.

I remember vividly a terrible object lesson that illustrated what can happen when this crucial pre-takeoff step is omitted.  I lived north of Detroit, MI, in August, 1987.  One very hot and muggy Sunday evening, I was busy making donuts for the next day’s business at the bakery where I worked.  Sweat poured off me.

About an hour into the shift, a newsflash interrupted the regular radio programming announcing that a large airliner departing from Detroit Metro Airport had crashed upon takeoff.  There was one survivor—a little girl named Cecilia who was shielded by her mother.  It was an event that haunts Michiganders even  now, years later.

The ensuing NTSB investigation yielded the crucial piece of information as to why this flight was doomed.  Engine failure? No.  Mid-air collision with another aircraft?  Again, no.  The pilots had forgotten to extend the flaps and slats.  It was a hot, muggy night and this important pre-takeoff adjustment was even more critical.  The plane didn’t get the lift it needed and collided with the light towers of the nearby car rental area just northeast of the airport and came down on Middlebelt Rd.

The crash of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 was a tragedy.  Lives lost and families changed forever.

In life, we talk about “hitting the mark for our lives.”  We speak of our dreams, things we want to be and do.  Doing so, we often use the metaphors of flying.  “Fly high—the sky’s the limit.”  And so forth.

Often, we fail to get lift not unlike the jet that crashed that muggy August evening.  And, like an airliner, it is because we don’t prepare ourselves–emotionally, mentally, and physically–to accelerate into the wind and get airborne, moving towards a better future.

All the jet engines in the world will not get a plane off the ground if the shape and volume of the plane’s wings are incorrect, either by design or failure at during pre-flight adjustments.

Can I suggest that some basic modifications—and these are not big—can help us all really to roll on down the runway, get the lift we need, and soar?  Here are some:

  • Don’t be dependent on the approval of others before you roll down the runway.  Hitting a “Like” button on a social media website really doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight in the long haul—unless, of course, you let it.
  • Be honest with your makeup, drives, loves and preferences.  It’s doing something for which you have both aptitude and enjoyment that ultimately helps you fly.  Yes, we all have day jobs which we may or may not “love” but we can leverage these as well as our hobbies and avocations for the flight.
  • Avoid negative people.  They “drag” you down.  Drag hinders flight and is the reason that any jet you watch lift off the runway pulls in its landing gear immediately.  Drag will keep it from flying high and can bring it down.

Now soar!

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