Teach Me, Yoda

If you like Star Wars, you know Yoda, the tiny green Jedi master who was the mentor for multiple Jedi warriors, including his most famous pupil, Luke Skywalker. I believe most of us experience hardship in our lives at one time or another, and likely we all have had at least one mentor who  gave us guidance. If you are like me, however, you may not have heeded all the advice given, like young Luke, who wanted to follow his own path and was reluctant to follow all the instructions of his greatest teacher.

A mentor is a gift we typically don’t recognize until after their input has benefitted us somehow. Many times people neglect to thank their mentors properly for the skills they help us develop and refine. I wish to use my next few posts to pay tribute to some of my mentors over the years, though to be honest, I don’t quite know where to begin since I have been blessed to have several people who have helped me in various aspects of my life. I guess the easiest way would be to start at the beginning.

I have learned how fortunate I am to have 2 loving parents who raised me and who, despite some hard times of their own, did whatever it took to stick it out and try to set a good example for me and my brother. Like most children, they were my first mentors. My mom and dad did their best to raise me right and teach me good ethics and morals. While I went my own way and have certainly made my share of mistakes, some of them very major ones, I have learned lots of lessons and have turned my life around 180 degrees in the past few years.

It is no reflection on my parents that I made a lot of mistakes. Remember Yoda and Luke? Luke screwed up despite Yoda’s strong advice and teaching. So did I and so do a lot of us. I think we all try to be the best parents and teachers we can be, but we are all human and all make mistakes. All we can hope for as parents is that our kids remember and value the good things we teach them, and have enough grace to forgive us for the mistakes we make and the bad things we teach them. My folks did the best they could and although I ignored some of their advice and had to learn things the hard way on my own sometimes, I have come back around, and I credit them with a lot of my ability to get back up, dust  myself off and try it again. It’s amazing how smart our parents become as we get older ourselves.

It says in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”. Well I believe that. I am now getting old (just turned 49) and while I am stubborn and certainly have a long way to go, I know I have benefitted from the teachings and the example of my parents, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this summer! 

Thanks Mom and Dad.

I love you very much.

Bulldozers and Bedrooms

If you have ever raised teenagers, you have likely had to “choose your battles” to preserve your sanity. This mantra has saved countless parents from committing mass murder and prevented the need for a custom-fit straightjacket time after time.  AND…..even though in your mind you were ready, willing, and able to forfeit years of freedom for just a few minutes of quiet,  a clean house, and a car returned home BEFORE curfew with more than an ounce of gas in the tank, it was finally determined that all expense paid trips to state institutions are highly overrated. Limited socialization and dismal wardrobe choices are just two of the reasons to try and salvage your sanity by choosing not to fight to the death with your teen on every subject. However, there are some situations that you can’t ignore. They simply cry out for parental attention and you eventually have to try to break through to them. Maybe something like this.

Let’s imagine for a minute that, oh I don’t know, your teenager’s room is filled with dirty laundry. That isn’t a stretch, really. The homeowner’s association has already cited you twice for the odor coming from the room and they didn’t believe that there was an isolated gas leak or that the bedroom was built over a landfill. Both the Army and the CDC have come by, scouting your home for new strains of bacteria never before identified. Previous attempts to remedy this have not gone well, with responses like the following:

“It’s my room isn’t it? What difference does it make if my clothes are on the floor or not? It’s stupid that I have to keep it clean. If you don’t like it, don’t come in here. I can move around just fine. I have plenty of clothes. The Army? Cool.”

Well, this time there are so many dirty clothes that the bedroom door is jammed shut against the frame. Not just closed…. JAMMED. The door is bending like it is trying to escape, door frame bending, splinters and nails protruding, creating a hazard for those walking by the door, but there is also fear that the cloud of gas that would escape if the door was opened will kill all living things for miles around.  You haven’t heard any rumblings or other signs of life for 3 days and you are starting to worry, though if you check the computer network, there are signs of activity coming from their laptop, so you suspect they may still be alive in there.

Cartoon Landfill Guy © Planet Ark

The last time this happened you could at least track the food usage and determine that someone else was drinking the milk and eating cheetos, even if there were no visible or audible signs of human activity near “their room” (cue twilight zone music). No such luck this time. All the food is gone. You haven’t been able to go to the store because there is no more gas in the car, which is parked so unbelievably close to the garage wall that you can’t get into the driver’s seat without crawling through from the other side. You know they drove it but you don’t know when or how.

It is quite possible they starved to death in their room after becoming obsessed with a video game. Battling with 1,000 of their closest online friends, all of whom have been blown apart, shot, stabbed, crushed, and mutilated time and time again, only to return for the next “battle to beat all battles.”

“I just need to get to the next level”. Those were the last words you heard…3 days ago.

What can you do? You have lost contact and you need to confirm survival….and you need them to move your car! The stress is overtaking you. Bulging veins in the neck and forehead, crazy look, rapid breathing, sweaty palms. What will you do?

 

“I’ve got it!” You rush out the door to the garage.

“Crap”

You trudge back inside……. and call a cab.

2 hours later you return

Driving a bulldozer.

No, silly, not one of those big ones used for roadwork. That would be ridiculous. It’s one of those small ones with tracks that fits through the gate so you can dig up the back yard. THAT is MUCH more reasonable. He said it should fit inside the hallway by the bedroom….. after a little creative remodeling. Did I mention that you are the only parent at home today so this seems totally logical and no-one has dared to question your sanity?

 SO, now the bulldozer is in the hallway and positioned against the door. The carpet and walls haven’t fared well, by the way. The engine moans and groans, wood cracking,  exhaust and sparks fill the air,,,but you are losing traction. The door is not moving. You thought you heard something inside, but then there was only a faint clicking, only clicking. Could it be a mouse? A keyboard? Crickets? Finally, after the foam from the fire extinguisher was cleared and the bulldozer was uprighted, you jarred the door open just enough to slip a hand inside. You feel something. It could be…..rubber?…..no, cloth?….you just aren’t sure.

You use your infra-red camera to scan for survivors. You upgraded this month since the one you used last time melted as you retrieved it, sparking and dripping with a black goo that smelled faintly like cheetos and old shoes. Is there evidence of life? Lifeforms of any kind?  There! flashing on the screen…….Inconclusive…Inconclusive….Inconclusive. You are devastated….. and still without answers. The door is starting to close again. Grasping at straws now, you slam yourself against the door.

You try yelling through the opening but the sound won’t travel through the Bermuda Triangle, where no adult communication can enter and only video games and texting can survive. Clothing must be optional since you know there have been no clean clothes in this environment for weeks on end and the effect on what used to be carpet can not be imagined.

Nobody blames you. You tried. You slowly back away. Tears staining your soiled face. You drive the bulldozer back out in to the living room, too depressed to go any farther. Then you have one last final idea. You dial the phone and wait. The trap is set. The doorbell rings.

“PIZZA!”

Whar yew frum?

“Whar yew frum?”    “Ah, wayuh ah ya fram”   “Weer ya frem?    “Wuryafrom?’

“Hay thar”

Whether it’s the rapid fire speech heard in “New Yawk”, the distinctive tones in New England and the “Noth-east”, the slow twangs of  the “Deeeeeep Sayouth”, Chicago’s “Da Bears”, or other regional distinction, I find the various dialects very entertaining….and sometimes quite challenging to interpret. “California speak” can be very distinctive. I am a native Texan, but there are even different dialects here, depending on the area of the lone star state from which you hail. Louisiana and Cajun?  That’s a whole different article,  I garonteee!

Some of my family hails from the Appalachian region of the south, well known for their extreme dialects and rural lifestyle. Remember the movie “Nell”?  I recently watched a documentary about Appalachia and the majority of it was subtitled because the speech patterns were so different and hard to understand. Terms like “his’n” and “her’n” = “his” and  “hers”, “nar” = “narrow”, “better n life (loff)” = “really good”, “Pewt” = “golly”. I heard these from aunts and uncles when we would travel through the Applachians and I also lived in Tennessee for a few years , where I heard even more variations. Here are some examples.

“Wall, youins otter come back soon. This hyar visit was better n loff. Just cain’t stain it. Be carful headin round the nar n curvy road, as youns headn outcha holler. Be watchin for Ole Bud. That truck a his’n aint got but three good tars and kindly tips over when he turns them carners. Emma won’t let him drive at new car of hern. Fraid hill go off n get hisself kilt”.

“Thanks, we will. You be sure and come see us too”

“Pewt! Lawdy boy that’ll be the day. Nope. We ain’t gonna be goin that way, but youins come back to see us up hyar. Bah nayow.”

I think it is interesting how we can be in the same areas and speak so differently. Like Professor Higgins noted in My Fair Lady, dialects can differ in neighborhoods or even from street to street in certain areas.  

When I graduated college with a degree in speech pathology, I was concerned that my “Texas accent” would make me sound less professional in my new job, so, I practiced using my best newscaster voice to be as “neutra”l as I could. Think Tom Brokaw. I have a deep voice and I could pull it off pretty well. Well, my fears were relieved after about 10 minutes of listening when I got there, since southeast Tennessee is not known for generating many midwestern dialects. The Tennessee drawl was not far from the Appalachian patterns I knew, and suddenly I was not self conscious about my Texas dialect anymore. I could speak however I wished and would be right at home. I learned that being able to fit in allowed me to make other people more comfortable than they did when speaking to Mr. broadcaster.

However, there was a local professional there (who was from….duh duh duh… “up north”) who was advertising to work with local business people to “improve their speech patterns”. Why, you ask? “Because the southern drawl, after all”…(and this is what sunk her program) “makes you sound less intelligent”.

OUCH! Did you feel the slap of insult or was it just me?

Well, you might expect that a few VERY SUCCESSFUL and VERY INTELLIGENT business people who “growed up rotcheer in east Tinisee” were “holly offended” since they had “done just fon and could ford to buy this here bidniss and close it dayown” just so she wouldn’t offend nobody else. This was in the deep south after all, and peole are polite above all, even when trying to kill you….with kinidness. That program never really got off the ground. Can you believe it?

 Of course there were a few other things I had to learn when I got there, like what “HON” was.

“HON? What’s HON?”

Oh, you know what I mean. “Good mornin, HON”, “Thank ye HON”, “HON, can you comeer fer a minit?”   “HON” was short for “honey”, which I always liked to be called. Much better than other things I can get called at work, and HON was the traditional nickname for any younger man working among older women. It was so sweet. “Doncha thank so, HON?”

I was watching the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon last night and Fred Armisted was on. He gave great examples of the differences between the Bronx, Queens, and other of New York’s 5 boroughs. He obviously grew up there and it was so easy for him to switch between the tone of voice and pronucniations. Watch “Wiseguys” or “Donnie Brascoe”. Nuff said.

Minnesoooota and Wiscahnsin have their oooon distinctions, as does Vuhginya, waya an ah cayunt be fayund hodly anywayuh. “Oh mussy. I thank I may be gettin the vapuhs.”  Ok, it’s not that bad anymore, but I do know some old tranditionalists from Richmond……

“Hand ovuh yo hot when you refuh to mah fayuh city suh”

….where the “r” is delightfully omitted to this day and the more genteel the drawl, the bettuh.

And you wonder why peoople who come to America have trouble understanding English?

Go figure   or   Go figger   or   Gah figyah   or ……

Aw Shucks.

It’s Time to Take a Chance

Believe it or not, I am not dead, though you may have thought so since I have been away from the keyboard for so long. The fact is……I am still alive and kicking, fat and happy. Hopefully, that is good news to you. If not, I am sorry you feel that way, but I am here for a few minutes and you can find something else to read if you like, though I don’t recommend it.

“Why? If I don’t like something I stay away from it. Nothing wrong with that.”

Sure, if you mean things like illegal activities, things you have no interest in, or certain food preferences. I don’t like asparagus, brussel sprouts, or cottage (gag) cheese. I stay far away from them. I avoid drugs, robbing banks, polo matches, reading technical manuals, and gang activity, but that’s not what I mean.

“Yeah, I hate spam. It’s gross. But what in the world are you talking about?”

Obviously, you have never read any of my earlier posts, and are ignorant of the magical meat that comes from a can. I can forgive that and will direct you to this link for enlightenment. Please read it after you are through. 

No, what I see are too many people bored with their lives. They want to do something else but they are scared to try. I am talking about taking chances every now and then. Going out on a limb and trying things you have always wanted to try but have been scared to attempt. Not being so afraid that you play it safe all your life, dig into a boring routine, and never realize what you are capable of.

 

“Ok that’s weird but keep going”.

Some people live their lives wrapped up safely inside the cocoon of their controlled environments and are scared to step outside those boundaries, for fear of what will happen. For example, maybe their job is not enjoyable. They hate going to work and they are bored to death but it is secure and they need a paycheck, so they trudge along, hating every day of their life because they are SO BORED. I understand the need for financial security and agree that financial needs have to be taken care of. I admire that dedication, but why be stuck there if you are not happy doing what you are doing? Why not get trained to do something else and quit making those around you miserable? 

“How can you say that? I am not miserable. I just HATE my job”.

HMMM. Don’t I frequently hear you telling others how awful your job is and how bored you are, and how terrible and stupid your boss is? We all know you hate your job and the fact that we all know it means that you don’t keep quiet about it, which brings down office morale and that negativity spreads like a virus. That tells me that you are not a positive, enjoyable employee who is contributing to the cause of the organization. Rather, you are a “pot stirrer”. You like to mix things up and see what you can get going and how many others will chime in to join the pity party and spewing of negative comments. It is not healthy and after a while, people begin to avoid you. Haven’t you noticed the way people roll their eyes when you start griping?

A lack of passion for what you do and boredom or frustration with your current situation often translates into poor customer service. We have all encountered the person on the other side of the counter or other end of the phone call who obviously doesn’t care about what you need and are just waiting to get off at 5:00.  Do we really need more of that?  Why not try and change your situation? What would you enjoy doing?

“Well, I have always wanted to be a professional singer and actress. Singing and acting are the only things that make me happy. I was the star in the high school musical and I was really great and……”

Not really what I was going for, but I can tell you have a passion for performing so let’s go with it. Let’s say you were still in your 20s, single, and have the proven talent to go for it. You are willing to pay the price by sharing a tiny apartment in NYC with other hopefuls, wait tables or do some other odd jobs while you audition and try for the big break, knowing that it is one of the most competitive, cutthroat businesses around and the percentages are against you. Why not try it? You will always wonder if you don’t try.  However, you have to have a plan, be reasonable and honest with yourself, and know when the signals are telling you to change gears and try something more stable.

In your particular case, you love to perform, but you are 45 with 2 kids in college and your family needs to survive more than you need to sing. You should not quit your job and try to break into show business because the “only thing you have ever wanted to do” is sing on Broadway. However, you are passionate about performing, so why not join a local chorus, church choir, or even a local music group. They advertise for singers all the time. There are community theater productions and church drama teams that are always in need of volunteers. That would give you something enjoyable to do that you can be passionate about outside of work and would give you something to look forward to.

“Yeah that would be great. I have always been too scared to try that, but maybe I will. I still hate my job, though”.

Well, in today’s economy, some job is better than no job, in most cases, but I would hope that everyone can find something they excel at and enjoy. If you really love what you do, it usually shows and you will do it well. I am so blessed that I LOVE what I get to do for a living and I am good at it. I think the two go hand in hand and I don’t believe loving what you do for a living is out of reach for others.

I know people who have spent their entire life doing something they really didn’t enjoy doing because it is what they thought they were supposed to do, or what they were told they should do. They didn’t pursue what they should have done or wanted to do.

“I was an accountant for 40 years, but all I really wanted to be was a veterinarian”

“I worked in the oil and gas industry for my entire career and while it made a nice living, I really wanted to be a missionary in South America”

I also know people who have gone back to school to become a teacher or nurse or get into another field that they find interesting and enjoyable. I know someone who was a geologist and when the economy caused a bad turn in the oil business, he had to do something else. He ended up being a railroad engineer for the next 25 years and loved it. With the the types of training and education that are available through online training programs and weekend or evening university programs, opportunities exist for people who don’t want or cannot go to traditional college programs. Financial aid packages are available, and if you are driven enough, you can even get an extra job to earn more money to save up for the training you need.

“Well, sometimes I’m not motivated to work”.

Sometimes we need a break because of burnout and sometimes we need something different to motivate us. A change of pace, different assignments, new job entirely. Lack of motivation comes from several things, which could include depression, but can also be due to boredom from the same old routine and lack of adequate challenge. It could also come from complacency, which usually comes from a lack of need to change things and a satisfaction with the status quo. For example, a consistent stream of income to support the current lifestyle without the need to work for it. If there is no need to change, nothing will change. So, until something motivates you to change your situation, it won’t change. Look at your situation and see what it is that is hindering your performance and then take steps to change it.

I currently have two kids in college and we don’t know what lies in store for them financially, vocationally, or otherwise. It is a scary place out there in the job world these days. I want them to be able to earn a living and not be dependent on their parents for financial support for longer than necessary, for the obvious reasons. They are both tremendously talented, each in different areas. I hope they will find the careers that feed their souls and their passions and allow them to make the world a better place than they find it, regardless of what they elect to do with their lives. I want them to happy. I hope they will be willing to take chances to discover what is necessary for them to feel that passion and what will make them happy, for if they do, they will be great at their chosen vocation and that brings rewards of its own. Why take chances? Because it is unlikely that the very first job they land will feature all the things that feed their passion. Without trying things on and seeing how they fit, they will not really know which things they like and which things they don’t. Notice I didn’t say I want them to “make a good living”. That is a relative term and varies according to your priorities. While I make a “good living” compared to many, I make a fraction of the salaries of many of the people I went to school with. I love what I do though and I am hopeful that my boys will have the same blessings as they go out into the world and try to make it a better place.

Finally, speaking of taking chances and not being too scared to try things. After going through a divorce and learning how to be a bachelor again, I have been blessed to meet a wonderful woman with whom I mesh very well. To quote an older friend of mine whose second marriage has lasted 30 years, I am “jumping back into the fire” and will be getting married later this spring. I wondered if that would ever happen again and we were both pretty well convinced that marriage was not in the cards again for either of us. However, just goes to show you that with some faith and a willingness to take a chance, some wonderful things can happen, regardless of your circumstances. I hope you will allow yourselves the same freedom and try something new this year. Take dancing lessons, learn to cook, take that trip you have been dreaming about, explore new adventures, learn a new language. Maybe even fall in love. You never know what can happen unless you are willing to take a chance.

Do you ever do this?

It is 8:30 pm. I have lots I should be working on. I am writing instead.

Why?

It doesn;t seem right that when I finally have time to get some things done, I can’t focus and stay engaged in the activities I need to be engaged in.

Do you ever experience that? Maybe I have ADD. See what you think.

 distraction

Allright now. Let’s get settled down for an evening of paperwork, data entry, and completion of the to-do list. Oh, look at that. A bug is crawling ion the counter. I better kill it. Oops. made a mess. Now I better clean it up. Thats better. Where was I? Paperwork. Got it.

Hmm, where is that pen? It’s too dark in here. Light bulbs? I better go get some. While I am at the store I need to get to some toilet paper and bacon and nails and motor oil and….

ADD

Oh, shoot, paperwork. 9:15 already? Wheww. I better get busy. Ok, number two on the list. Yuk. I hate that. Number 3?. Ok, let’s start there. Ew. I better call the kids to check on them. 10:30? Wow. time flies when doing all this work. Guess I will have to try harder tomorrow. Tomorrow? Friday . Oh no. I have that project due next week. I guess I need to buckle down Saturday, right after the movies. right before dinner. Ok, that gives me 30 minutes to get it done. Hmm. Sunday? Nope.

image_drawing_distraction

Guess I will be calling in Monday morning.

Some things are really not important in the big picture

Some things hit you right in the face and make you think about what is important in life.

I was at work late tonight in the world’s best cancer center, as I am too many nights. I went to eat dinner in the cafeteria and saw a large family connecting for the first time in a while. It was obvious by the way they all hugged and kissed each other, holding hands, touching each other. Showing comfort and support to each other. Undoubtedly, someone in the family was ill and in the hospital. I imagine they may not be doing very well, prompting the reunion.

My Dad’s side of the family was always that way. If someone was in the hospital, 20 of the Smith bunch were up there in the waiting area in no time. Soon the laughter was enough to have us all run out of the waiting area. That is a nice memory for me, despite being intermingled with sad times. It has been too long since we were all together outside of a hospital or a funeral. My great Uncle is 94 and has had a birthday party that serves as a family reunion of sorts for the past few years, but it hasn’t been complete. We are all too busy and tied up with our own stuff. I went when I was having chemotherapy and was bald in 2011, but haven’t been back since. I need to go again. I have hair now and won’t freak so many people out. 

“Family”. The mere word conjures a multitude of images, memories, thoughts, smells, and feelings. Some good, some not so good,  but as much as we all wish there were no “difficult” situations in our families, they exist. We need to look past them and be family anyway.

We get so stressed out about our lives and the minutia that clouds our heart and minds and we waste so much of our time with anger and frustration, fighting and resentment, hurts and offenses, revenge, guilt, and sadness. “I can’t believe he said that. I just am so OFFENDED.” “Who did what to whom and how does it affect me, because after all, I am the one that counts in all this mess anyway, right?” I am tired of hearing people complain and whine about things that really don’t matter in the big picture. 

We need to get some perspective.

In the past two weeks, a friend from college died suddenly and I also attended the funeral of the son of another college friend. Another friend is dealing with the anniversaries of both parents’ deaths. In Kenya, a group of friends have been on a mission trip for 2 weeks.  After spending all week with the pastor of the church they were helping, he was killed Saturday night in a car wreck, on the way home from the church dedication service. Tragic. People died and were injured in an airplane landing on a runway in San Francisco. This week in Houston, a father and teenage son were killed by intruders in their own home. And you have problems?

If you have children, stop what you are doing and hug them right now. If they are teens text them a hug. They’ll like it even if they think you are weird.  

Sitting in the funeral service for my friend’s son two weekends ago, I could not help but think of my boys. I did not know his son but he was close to my oldest boy’s age. My eyes would not stay dry. What were the last words they shared?  What were mine with my boys? Were they kind or harsh? How about mine? I know he told him he loved him? Did I?

It was obvious by the outpouring of support this family received that they are a special group, close to each other and those around them. I think about the pain my friend endures daily now, not having the chance to tell his son how much he loves him, how proud he is of him. What is keeping me from doing that right now?

It gave me some fresh perspective on what is important from day to day. It isn’t work and it isn’t money, and it isn’t status. It is family and time spent with them while you have it to spend. It may be a bit late to be learning that lesson, but I never did claim to be the early bird and this late bloomer is trying to start over in all aspects of his life.

I am still alive and so are my boys. I don’t see them as much as I want to but I try every time we speak (or more often these days, text) to tell them I love them. I try not to stress out about the details of what is going on that I used to get upset about. I try to look at the big picture as much as possible. It keeps me less angry and frustrated and I hope, makes me a nicer Dad to be around. By the way, guys, I love you both very much.

My parents and several aunts and uncles and cousins are still alive. I need to see them more and even if I don’t see them, talk with them more because I miss them. I love them and want to let them know that. I got to see my brother and father earlier this year when they came to see my great Uncle and made a special trip down to see me because I couldn’t drive up. It was the first time I had seen my Dad since last spring and the first time I had actually been with my brother in at least 2-3 years. Regardless of the reasons, all valid, that is too long. 

I am travelling next week and will get to see my parents together for the first time since last March. when they came down and spent a month to help me after my cancer surgery. I am SOOOOO looking forward to it. I cannot wait to hug my mom and dad and spend some time just being with them.

Do you get my point? Spend time with your loved ones when you can. Tell those in your life how you feel about them. If your family is gone, love on a friend or neighbor. Everyone needs someone to care for and we all need someone to care for us, whether we think we do or not. Even if you can’t bring yourself to utter the phrase, show them you love them however you think is best. Give em a hug, sit and visit, mow their grass, or even bake them a pie (buttermilk is my favorite, by the way).

So, repeat after me. “To those in my life who I cannot be with right now, you know who you are. I love you and I miss you and I want to visit with you, whether in person, over the phone, or even email. Let’s make that happen soon. Deal?”

Now don’t let it hang there. Do something to make it happen. And by the way, if you think this is a good idea, share it with your friends and let’s see how big a difference it makes in all our lives.

The Day the Angels Battled Over My Chicken

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One of the things I vowed to learn how to do when I moved into my apartment this summer was cook. Cooking was never a skill I bothered to pick up outside of breakfast foods and grilling. I believe I … Continue reading

Christmas Healing

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The reason for Christmas if you will recall is to celebrate the birth of the One so small, born long ago to redeem the whole earth. Christmas is supposed to honor Christ’s birth It’s not about presents or the program … Continue reading