Thank you for visiting!

You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, the first novel in my fantasy adventure series. Visit the Edge of the World! Come for the view, stay for the adventure!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Report: 100 Cupboards

I have been an avid reader for most of my days. In my pre-literate days I was anxious to learn to read. In those ancient days they did not really try to teach kindergartners to read. I had to wait for the first grade. When I reached that opportune level of education I put myself diligently to the task of learning to read. Dick and Jane were my friends. I was voracious. By the end of the first grade I had already begun feasting on third grade readers.

Books. Books. More books. The Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron were early favorites. A friend and I got heavily into Freddy the Pig books. I read The Boxcar Children, The Borrowers, and ever so many more wonderful tales.

Then I discovered Science Fiction. It took time for me to grasp that warp travel through space was just a literary tool. I wondered just why we remained stuck on this one world when warp drive would let us go out there, meeting far greater adventures than this small planet afforded. My early youth preceded Star Trek by a number of years, I am afraid.

There was probably a failure of appreciation on my part. This world is full of adventures, but the romantic nature of imagination always makes the grass greener on the other side of the Galaxy. Hey, I was a kid. Asimov. Clark. Heinlein. Juvenile literature, and more. Wells. Verne. Lovecraft. Poe. A book from the library, a bag of barbecue potato chips, and my private chamber. I was a reclusive child, and I don't regret it.

I never lost my fondness for fantasy adventure. Nor for juvenile literature. That is why I was intrigued when my wife brought home 100 Cupboards, by N. D. Wilson. I am sure she was captured by the intriguing cover art. I know I was. When she finished it, I jumped at the opportunity to have a fun read. I just finished a few minutes ago.

Be forewarned, it is first in a series. If you are no longer a child, or child enough for juvenile literature, you might turn from the intriguing adventure of so many cupboards, containing magic and mystery. Otherwise, I recommend you jump right in. Open a cupboard or two. See where they might take you.

If you have young people in your life, young people who read, this could be just the gift to give. Magic doors and such seem to have a strong appeal for young people, and some people who are not so young. I know I still love the mystery of a cabinet or closet, and hope always for some magical place on the other side.

Magic. Mystery. Cupboards and other places. Oh, and baseball. Yep. Good story. Give it a try.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Apples to Oranges-

In 1973 I was sent to Germany by the United States Army. I lived there two years, in one of the largest colonies of foreign-based Americans in the world. A thing called by some a "third culture." People from one culture living in another culture, trying to maintain their old culture while living from day to day. To make the mix more interesting, I also lived among the largest population of Turkish born people in Germany. The experience was interesting, but far from a pure exposure to the German people.

I traveled a bit, though not as much as my present self sometimes would have liked. I was in a socialist country. I had the prejudices of a capitalist American, and yet what I saw was a working economy and a nation of relatively happy people. The country as a whole was tidier than the United States, but then again it was a lot smaller, and socialist. They had great public transportation. I saw no particularly poor neighborhoods. As a place to live, it seemed to be not too bad.

Recent politics in the United States has raised the specter of socialism once again. Having seen a socialist state up close, I find I cannot respond to the fear mongering. I am unable to make real comparisons. Germany is in a different part of the world from the United States. It is smaller. It has a very different history. Is socialism working there? Perhaps. They muddle through, at least. Just like most of us Americans.

Fear mongers seem to capitalize on apples to oranges comparisons. Because this apple is not like an orange, we should be afraid. If that orange can not be more like an apple, it must be cast out. Ultimately, it is presented that overcoming the fear will require compliance on our part with the fear mongers program. If we don't get on board, the apples will gain supremacy. Or, the oranges will come to dominate and apples will become powerless.

Too many fear mongers are willing to use misrepresentation to achieve their lofty purposes. Re-purposing a photo to drive an emotional response, to manipulate the audience. Things like that. Organizations with high ideals and worthy goals too often jump into the pool of deception. It is common enough that I would encourage you to doubt that shocking and gut wrenching image presented by just about any group, even one you support.

Through the course of my many years of eclectic studies, I have learned about tools of manipulation. I learned enough that a philosophy professor once recommended I become a political speech writer, a course I chose not to follow. Subtle things, such as camera angles or the choice of the very low volume background music, can have a large impact on how a presentation is received. Manipulation is everywhere.

Reacting in fear, especially fear generated by something someone else tells you or shows you, will lead to the greatest loss of freedom. The freedom to act out of your own thoughts and feelings, according to your own experiences in the context of your own life.

I promote the increase of individual liberty in this world, for all people. It won't make the world safer. It might just do the opposite. I don't know. Free people are free to think and feel as they choose, and act accordingly. That might not be particularly safe, but I choose the dangers of freedom over the safety of excessive control.

Granted, reasonable regulation is necessary. Choosing to support well thought out regulation is an act of personal liberty, and on the whole a good thing. However, allowing fear to drive support is not a good thing at all.

Think. Think past fear. Make sure your choices are your  choices.

Choose wisely. Choose well.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Honor Driven Life-

"I would rather be an honorable fool than a dishonorable man of great wisdom and power." Michael R. Lockridge

Yes, I am quoting myself. That is because I turned that phrase while thinking on my topic, and it sounded good. Like a quote I might have gotten from someone wise, and honorable. Perhaps I did. I will leave that for others to judge.

Honor, like Justice and Love and Wisdom, is an Ideal. Like most ideals, Honor is difficult to define. My wife considers my sense of honor to be obscure and inconvenient, at times. I agree. However, if I honestly assess who and what I am, I realize that I am an Honor Driven Man.

Oh. Honesty. That is another ideal. There really are quite a few.

Since all of you have read Plato's Republic, and I know you all have, we can refer to that. The ideal of Justice is addressed, and generally not defined adequately. There are a lot of problems defining Ideals. Plato came up with a whole theory, founding a whole way of philosophical thinking to keep generations of philosophers from falling into real jobs and doing anything productive.

I have sought the quote I most like on the subject of Justice. A movie quote. So far I haven't found it. "Justice is the ideal. The law is what we have to live with." Something like that. It shows how ideals don't always quite touch the ground. They are beyond what we can know and understand and achieve, yet we are compelled to pursue them.

Back to Honor. Honor can be confused with pride. Now Pride can be an ideal, of sorts, or something of a vice. It has an obscurity greater than most ideals. Perhaps it is a bit of a bastard, not quite up to the standards of its more ideal siblings. I don't know. I do know that pride can compel people to strive to great heights, and also prevent people from acting wisely, compassionately and honorably.

Now my own sense of honor does not allow me to lie for my own convenience. I have lied as a matter of performing my duties in my profession in law enforcement. I did so under instruction, and in my honor-driven moral structure I am able to transfer the matter of dis-honor to those giving me the instructions. My honor binds me to serve those with whom I have a contract, an agreement. If they require a lie that does not violate the law, I can follow orders and lie. The dis-honor becomes theirs, as the ones in authority. I have rarely been asked lie, largely because I am not a very good liar. I lack the skill due to a lack of practice.

Honor, conflicting with Honesty. Freedom, an ideal that is all too often achieved and protected by violating the ideal of Peace. Plato was right about this matter, at least. Ideals are not easy to identify, and very hard to apply.

Then there are also ideals that are compromised into pseudo-ideals. They appear to be ideals, but if you examine the context they are something else entirely. Self-seeking lovers of power like these pseudo-ideals, whereby they appear to be Good and Honest and True. Self-righteous people can also often compromise ideals. They can seem Moral and Righteous, without the inconveniences ideal Morality and Righteousness would require.

My ideal seems most often to be Honor, though I must be honest and recognize that my sense of Honor is obscure and more intuitive than logical. It may simply be my particular brand of self-delusion by which I have learned to cope with the uncertainties of life. That sense of Honor drives me, no matter how poorly I can identify and define it.

For the most part, it works well enough. Hardly anybody gets hurt.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Home Maintenance-

The other day my wife and I were out doing some errands. As we approached the front door of our house my wife pointed to the bottom of the exterior wall by the door and asked, "What's that?" There was a puddle of wetness on the porch near the bottom of the wall. On the other side of the wall was the garage, and the nearest point of probable wetness was the water heater.

Dutifully, I made my way to the garage, anticipating great expenses and unpleasant hours of repairs or negotiations with those who do repairs. I was not yet worried. I don't worry well. I went to see. I found the base of the hot water heater was wet. The wall behind it was wet. I could see where water was pooling along the base of the wall and running out to where my wife had first spotted the problem.

I tracked the water upward, and found it originating at a point near the junction of the copper flex hose and the acronym plastic pipe taking the hot water into the house. I could not find the actual leak. The water was coming out as a fine mist, and only became visible where it gathered on the wood structure of the garage. I looked, and looked. I stuck my finger (carefully) into the invisible flow. It became wet. Yep, a leak.

Using my iPhone I took a photo of the point of the leak and some of the related hardware. I then emailed my Dad. He has a lot of experience in doing the repair thing. I have much less. We communicated by email and phone. I was considering taking my photo to the big box store nearby. He advised me to go to Grover Electric and Plumbing Supply. I followed his advice. I am glad I did.

The people at Grover are knowledgeable. Not just the older male fellows working the back. The young ladies working the counter up front were also advising customers, and assisting in an energetic and beneficial manner. The fellow at the central counter helped me with similar energy and knowledge. He said he really liked the way people can bring in photos and videos on their phones. It helps him know what the problem is, and what to do about it.

Regarding that, I would advise taking both a video and several still photos. Gather as much visual information as you can to show the people at a shop such as Grover. Get images of the problem, and related components. Good advice will come from good information.

The man at Grover took me to where the parts were, selected the parts, and even assembled some of the stuff. He made sure I had all I would need to do the job right, and safely.

Armed with that advice and a bag of stuff, I went home. I called my Dad again, and he agreed to come over. I probably didn't need any help. The job was straight-forward, and the instructions at Grover had been clear. However, I really wanted to enjoy doing the job with my Dad, and the extra hands were helpful. We got it done in short order, and had a pretty good time doing it.

We were both introduced to a new product, which proved to make the job a whole lot easier. It was necessary to cut off a section of the acronym plastic pipe and replace it. That replacement would require some kind of joint. The man at Grover recommended and supplied a SharkBite joiner. You just put in two inserts, slide the PEX line in one end, and the PEX line to be joined in the other. Make sure they are seated. That's it. Tight joint. No leak. No obstruction of the water flow due to a reduced inner diameter, because the diameter remains virtually the same.

Now, I value the box stores for volume pricing and all. For the most part, I have had good advice from people in such stores. However, not all employees there have the kind of knowledge I found at Grover. The volume at the box stores assures better pricing, but few employees can attain the level of knowledge I found in a specialty shop. Based on the number of contractors running in and out of Grover, that specialize expertise is valued in the construction industry in Southern Oregon.

I can't pretend to know a whole lot about the economics and philosophy surrounding the advance of the big box stores and the demise of local businesses. Grover is a chain store, though not as big as some of the international chains. Could a more local shop have provided the same service? I don't know. Would I have better served the community by calling a plumber? Perhaps. I just know that I got the job done, and am satisfied by the results.

Now I just need to get the image of a fuzzy blue guy doing plumbing out of my head...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Woodworking and other adventures-

Our recent move has had many ups and downs. One recent up has been getting a little shop area together. Previous homes have not allowed for shop space, and for expanding my limited knowledge of woodworking. Additionally, my work took so much time that I really did not have the resources in time and money to do much. That is now changing.

Here is a shop tour. Here is a bit more. As I said, I am just beginning. Mostly hand tools and a few simple power tools. For a number of months the garage housed a lot of boxed items from the move. Those have been sorted, unpacked or shifted to a dedicated garage storage area. Eventually I excavated the shop bench that came with the garage, and only in the last few weeks have I been able to begin making it a work space.

If you have watched any of the many woodworking shows on television, you know what a real shop looks like. Even the most humble of these shops causes tool envy. "Now we need a mortise joint. Step on over to the mortising machine and I will show you how it is done." Then on to this machine, and that machine, all housed in a thousand square foot out-building.

These fabulous shops and their related programs can be inspiring and informative. I have learned a lot from such shows, and encourage anyone interested in woodworking to study such resources. These same shops and programs can be a bit daunting. So many expensive tools. So much skill, accumulated over many collective years.

I have had to compel myself to begin, even lacking a basic table saw. If I continue to wait on tools, I will never begin. So, today I began working up some wood to practice hand crafted dovetail joints. To do so I needed to get some wood worked down to blanks of uniform size. Lacking much in the way of tools, I studied what I did have. Here are two photos of what I came up with.

This is a Stanley miter box. It is a plastic unit which included a back saw. I have never before used a plastic miter box, but this one is designed well. The backbone on the back saw comes to rest on the top of the miter box when the cut is completed, so the obvious concern over cutting up the plastic is not an issue. Also, the unit came with two plastic cam clamps. Those black things there in the picture. They work surprisingly well for holding the work in place.

To set the stop for the pieces being cut I clamped a board the same thickness as the bottom of the miter box to the bench. The clamp is a basic F clamp running through a hole in the bench. On top of this bottom board is a block set as a stop for the cut piece. This set-up, though rather rudimentary, allowed me to cut out some blanks with which to work.

As a guide to hand cutting dovetail joints I referred to some YouTube videos. Here is a good one. There are others. Indeed, YouTube is a treasure trove of educational videos for just about anything. Since I lack a coping or fret saw, I shall have to wait a few days until I can get to the store. No need for a special trip, especially at the present cost of fuel. Next time I go somewhere will be soon enough.

Crafting tools and jigs is a big part of wood-crafting. Here is a jig made to do box joints. Obviously, the engineering and craftsmanship of tool-making is a big part of woodworking as a hobby. Matthias even made his own gears for the jig. Another aspect of the hobby is designing or re-creating unique pieces, unavailable from other sources. Often it is just the satisfaction of working with wood and tools and your hands.

Indeed, crafting furniture is not a real money saving proposition. With low-cost imports and the abundance of mass-produced components in box stores, making your own furniture is actually a costly venture. Just as the sport fisherman does not go fishing to save on the cost of fish, the woodworker is working for the satisfaction of the doing.

Some craftsmen move in the opposite direction from the elaborate power shop, and master the use of hand tools and ancient techniques for doing their work. Craftsmen have often done wonderful work with only a limited number of tools, many of which they had to design and make for themselves. Participating in that tradition has its own satisfaction.

Mastering the tools you have is far better than dreaming about tools you do not have. You learn more, and get a great deal more done. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this fact, kick myself in the butt, and get to work. Whether writing, knitting, gardening or working with such things as wood, nothing gets done until you get to the doing.

Just do it. ;-)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Frugal, or Cheap?

One of my friends and former co-workers once observed that a piece of coal shoved up my nether-regions would shortly be returned as a diamond. It was a coarse observation presented in more common vernacular to point out that I am frugal. Perhaps even cheap.

The observation was correct no matter what term one would choose. I strive to be frugal. It is a value I learned from my parents, and one I value as a value. Frugality seems good to me, and I am content following such a course. Unfortunately, I can also sometimes be cheap. Not always, but way too often. Cheap is the less honorable and dignified sibling of frugality. Not the better company to keep.

As an illustration, I shall bring my wife (unwillingly) into the blog. We were in the market for some new cookware. I looked around and found a set of cookware of admirable quality for an even more admirable price. Just under two hundred dollars. A good price, since this stuff would last a long time. Good metal. No high maintenance inner surfaces to worry about. A nice variety of pots, pans and covers. They had a good structure and form. Practical. Dishwasher safe.

My wife did not want to spend two hundred dollars. I quite understood, but argued for the investment. She shopped a bit more, and found a hundred dollar set on sale for half of that. Using a coupon or some other combination of discounts, she got it for less than twenty bucks. Now that was frugal.

Unfortunately, it was also cheap, at least by comparison. The set we bought has a high-maintenance non-stick coating. The pots and pans have serviceable structure and form, but are not nearly as versatile as the set I wanted. The metal is a light aluminum, not my favorite for cooking. The variety of pot shapes was not quite as good. They are not dishwasher safe, as the dishwasher may cause the outer surface to discolor.

Who was right? Well, I don't see it as an issue of 'right.' The lesser expenditure allowed us to keep some of our money, and the cookware is working out fine. Since a lot of my cooking is simply high aspirations, good intentions and little action, perhaps the lesser investment was the wiser. Frugal? Yes. Cheap? Probably.

I will never be a label shopper. I shall not be a slave to fashion. Those practices tend to part me from too much of my money just for bragging rights and to please people whose pleasure I don't particularly care about. Still, a label can sometimes point to good value. Something that wears well over a goodly span of time.

I will never be a political or philosophical shopper. I once had a philosophy professor who admitted that she shopped with unbalanced diligence to obtain a tooth powder that was not advertised in any way, and payed far too much for that 'freedom' from media manipulation. Some avoid a particular store, or another, because they are off-shore or use slave labor or indirectly kill baby Panda bears and innocent whales. I will go for the best price for the best quality, period.

Why so unconscionable in my shopping? Because it is a bit much to expect for me to weigh the issues and sift the facts from the feces just to buy toilet paper or a new pair of shoes. Because frugality is my dominant philosophical position. Because, in the end, I am cheap.

Anyone want to buy a fresh diamond?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Success is NOT accidental-

I think a lot about things like dreams and aspirations and strange concepts such as "success." How do we  discover dreams? What aspirations are worthy of pursuit? What defines success?

Sometimes our dreams go undiscovered. They are undiscovered due to not knowing how to find them. They are undiscovered because we don't seek them due to the influences of others or our own critical selves. Sometimes they frighten us, and we avoid them. Sometimes we just never think about dreams, and don't even look.

I recently watched a video, kind of a documentary. As a kid I fell in love with magic, the performing art. Like most kids, I learned a few tricks. Unlike most adults, I have kept it up, a bit. I have recently dusted off my magic stuff and practiced a bit. It is fun, and I might just find a way to make a few bucks with this in my retirement.

In the documentary you will see a number of teenage people aspiring to be the best in their age group. These kids are good. Really good. The documentary is valuable in documenting their aspirations and the effort it takes to be really good at anything. Yep. These kids sacrificed their time, focused on their art, and they practiced. They practiced a lot.

The art of magic is a fringe art. It is geeky and awkward, even among other performing arts. These are ubergeeks, these young people. Their devotion is amazing, especially to someone like myself who never really aspired to be the best at anything. I never acquired the passion and the focus. I have achieved successes in my life, but I never went for the gold like these kids.

I relate to this documentary because magic was one of my interests in my youth, and has been an interest through most of my life. I have some idea just how much these young artists had to work to get where they did. Teenagers. Not a group noted for their dreams and aspirations bearing such fruit. Only one among the competitors becomes the best in the world, but they are all huge winners. Not sitting around in a pool of teenage angst for them. Aspiration and achievement, even if they don't all grab the brass ring.

Watching something like this always leaves me with mixed feelings. Why wasn't I like that? Well, I just wasn't. We all have a lot of variables that comprise who we were when we were born, and a lot more variables come into play over time. The star performer, the most successful politician, the richest rich guy all catch the attention of the public, but there are a multitude of lesser successes which are achieved every day. Those little successes are the ones that really push us all forward as a people.

Think about something like, say, a documentary about a group of teenagers who aspire to be the best teen magician in the world. How many people would it take to make that documentary? Lots. Not as many as a block-buster movie, but a lot. Videographers, audio recorders. Lighting people. Writers. Administrators. Legal people. Somebody to pack and ship stuff. Lots of people. People with dreams and aspirations. People who have their own forms of success. People who, together, create a corporate success.

Success is not accidental. Oh, the final form of any one person's success might have accidental elements in it, but success itself is not accidental. Thought, study, planning and practice all go into success. Hours and hours. Most of the young people in the video practiced five hours every day. Every day. That, just to make the top fifteen young magicians in the world. Failure at that level is still quite a success.

Sometimes success is better defined in retrospect. For example, my career in corrections. I became a correctional officer as a consequence of having a family to care for and no real direction as to how to do that. I did not have a real plan, just the desire for a job that met the needs. The corrections thing became something to aspire to in order to provide for my family. It was never more than a job to me.

In the course of performing this difficult task I learned a lot about myself, and discovered I had the necessary skills to manage inmates successfully. I was not particularly adept at the office politics, and I have to imagine that there are plenty of people I worked for who would only consider me marginally successful. However, feedback from inmates and my fellow officers confirmed that I did the job well. I was a success.

In my youth I never aspired to be the best teen magician in the world. Striving for such a thing would not have occurred to me. Yet it occurred to at least a few young people. It occurred to someone else to document their aspirations, efforts and successes. As a consequence, I got to enjoy being informed, entertained, and inspired.

Find your dreams, and follow them. Aspire. Strive and loose. Strive and win. Value your successes, especially the ones you see only when you look back. Value the successes of others, too. We all need an audience, or a cheering section, or someone to help us get back up.

Success is not accidental.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rug Hooking, Knitting and Wood Working-

My long time friend and co-worker, Craig Harlamoff, once noted that he and I could be happy as professional hobbiests. People who pursue new and old hobbies, all of the time. I had to agree. We have known each other for over twenty years, mostly as professional correctional officers. (I wouldn't recommend corrections as a profession, or a hobby.) Perhaps it was that profession which compelled all of the hobbying. Perhaps it was just something wired into our admittedly strange brains.

I have for years been a whittler, a wood-crafter who is not-quite a carver. I took up loom knitting a couple of years ago, needing something to do with my hands during a long period of waiting. Something not so messy as whittling. Loom knitting was cheap to get into, and not particularly messy. I still loom knit. I am presently making granny-squares to be crochet trimmed and built into a blanket or afghan. It is relatively clean, quiet, and allows me to use my hands and mind creatively when I need to do just that.

Presently I have been viewing woodworking shows on television. The Woodwright's Shop. Rough Cut Woodworking. Woodsmith Shop. Our move led to getting a pretty good cable package, and with the DVR I have been able to gather some of these shows and watch them. Repeatedly. I would love to get a shop together and do some of the fine work I have watched. Unfortunately, it costs a bit more than a five dollar loom and ten bucks worth of yarn to get into this hobby. Even though I have a few tools, I have nothing sufficient for this kind of work. Not yet.

It costs nothing to look at other people's hobbies. One I discovered was rug hooking. I thought I would look into this hobby when it was mentioned some place or another. I found a guy who was doing it, doing it well, and had done it for quite some time. His work was really good, and he knew people who were even better. I checked into the basics of the hobby, and found that it didn't come cheap.

I remain interested enough to look forward to blog posts on the subject, and I really enjoy the pictures of the works presented by proud hobbiests. Meanwhile I watch woodworking shows and continue to knit a bit. There is a lot I haven't done even with a five dollar loom, and there are many yarns I haven't worked with. Like most hobbies, loom knitting has many layers and a great deal of depth.

Oh, and I have been dabbling in making beer. Just a bit. Unfortunately, home-brewed beer and knitting are not complementary hobbies. More so than beer drinking and woodworking, but they really don't go together. Beer drinking and watching sports is a whole different thing, however. Baseball season is just around the corner....

Yep, look for me in my favorite chair, an afghan growing on my lap, a home-brew sitting frosty on the table next to me, and a whole season of baseball on the television. Unless some job comes along to spoil it all. Of course, then I might have funds to start building my wood shop.

Hmmmm. That might not be so bad.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wealth and Power-

I have lived on this Earth for half of a century, plus a bit of change. Fifty nine years, in April. I kind of discount the nine years a bit, since most of us have a pretty limited perspective before the age of ten. We are still developing our prejudices and delusions, and so are not reliable as witnesses or as people to judge the value of one thing or another.

So, half a century. I have watched the struggle for power, internationally, nationally, and locally. I must have dropped the ball in those early years, because I really still don't get it. Much of it looks like a bunch of kids playing "King of the Hill" on a pile of manure. Sure, you might get to be king for a while, but it is still a pile of manure. If you play the game right, you end up covered in manure. Hardly worth the investment, it seems to me.

You might safely conclude that I lack wealth, and consequently am not very powerful. I am also relatively free of manure. I can't say if that is good, or not. Still, I eat regularly, live indoors when I choose, and have the power to write stuff. Stuff that is largely manure-free.

I am pretty sure people pursue wealth in order to gain power. People pursue power mostly out of insecurity. They fear others with power, and so if opportunity presents itself they gain wealth and power. Lil' Kim (of Korea, not music) proves that there is some wisdom in all of that.

So, wealth and power. Most of those who 'represent' me in government have a bit of both. How rich people can represent someone like me, a person of non-wealth and extremely limited power, I don't know. That may be a matter for another blog. Perhaps it already has been a blog I wrote, but forgot about.

How do you gain wealth? Well, if you do it legally you must live below your means. If you make X amount of money each year, you must live on less. We will call that, uh, Y. So, X-Y=I. See? Algebra was worth all of that time in school sitting in confusion as you watched the stud football player fondling the hot cheerleader in the back of the classroom. Oh, wait. That was just my experience. Sorry.

You take ( I ) and invest it. See? I. Invest. Variables. Important stuff. You put that money somewhere safe. As it builds up, some of the accumulated money can be placed in somewhat riskier investments. Keep in mind, an Emu farm is not considered a safe investment, and therefore should be considered risky. Still, who knows? It might pay off. Anyway, you do this living below your means and investing thing for years, and eventually you have a bit of wealth.

Unless you inherit something more to work with, this program hardly ever works. Earning your second million is always easier, because you have so much more to risk. Money you can risk which won't leave you living in a cardboard box behind the donuts shop. If you didn't inherit that first million, you may have to live in a box behind the donuts shop just to have a lifestyle below your means. You know, X.

Of course, this requires discipline in your youth. No fast cars, fancy foods and liquors. No big screen televisions. Just basic cable on your thrift store little television. It also requires discipline in later years. No botox or plastic surgery or trade-ins on spouses. Discipline. Order. Steady investing. Yeah. That's all likely to happen.

I came up with another plan. Say you can manage to save a bit. Just in a bank account. Put it back for the annual 'investment.' Go to a casino with your nest-egg. Every year. Put it on Red on the Roulette Wheel. Or, Black. One, or the other. It doesn't matter. The risk is the same. So close to a coin toss as to be the same. All on that color. One spin.

If you loose, you begin saving for next year. If you win, you walk away. 100% return on your investment, and  you still begin saving for next year. Put it somewhere safe. Never touch it again. Ever. You don't get to enjoy it. This is your wealth. If you keep doing this, year after year, you will win at least some of the time. Plus, if you keep going back to the same place you will get comps. Free stuff from the casino. Hey, you are a Big Roller.

Sure, walking away will take discipline. However, that discipline will only be needed once a year, rather than the discipline of regular saving and investing, requiring lots of homework and learning and gaining knowledge and all of that stuff. Eventually you can own that donuts shop, and live in an apartment above it.

What about that power thing? You won't get that much wealth, whichever program you use. Those powerful people either inherited their wealth, or stole it. Like Lil' Kim. Of Korea, not music.

Next up: Spend Your Way to Prosperity. Only $75 for my seminar. Reserve your place now.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

World Travel and Other Adventures-

I have been fortunate in my life, in many ways. One way in which I have been fortunate is in traveling. Some people who have shared bits of my life have traveled only a little. Others have traveled far more than I have. Where I am fortunate is in how I managed to travel.

Some people are intentional travelers. I have traveled intentionally on occasion. The planning, organizing, and funding. Then, the going. Yes, I have done that. However, not all that often. Most often I have traveled as a companion, follower or simply under direction.

For example, I traveled a bit as a child, following family. I have been up and down the length of California many times. Highway 99, and later Interstate 5, have always been familiar to me. We lived, in my early childhood, in the Los Angeles area. We would travel to visit family from time to time in my birthplace, Grants Pass, Oregon. To visit family.

I remember my Dad and my Grandpa switching off driving. I remember watching trains travel on the tracks parallel to some of the highway as we traveled. Orchards. Those fruit stands shaped like oranges. Billboards. Sleeping in the back of a station wagon as we traveled through the night. The scent of coffee in restaurants we stopped in along the way.

One summer my father took a short-term teaching job in Washington state. We lived for several months in Bellevue, Washington. We wandered around the Puget Sound area, visiting small towns, waterfalls, waterfronts and generally seeing the sights. one day we took a ferry ride that provided my one and only (and very short) experience of Canada. We were required to step off of the ferry, be counted in Sidney on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, and then we returned to the boat. That trip took us through the San Juan Islands, and is a cherished memory.

We traveled a bit in California, on family vacations. One time we ventured into the Gold Country of California, camping in a travel trailer. It was a fun trip for me. I have always loved journeys along the back country of wherever. Then, I graduated from high school and not long after entered into service in the Army.

The Army took me to California, near Monterey at Fort Ord. Then to Alabama, to stay for a time at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. Then to Fort Lee in Petersburg, Virginia. I traveled around a bit in these areas, visiting Civil War battlegrounds, visiting Washington D.C. twice, spending a lot of time in Richmond, Virginia, and eventually reaching New Jersey for my deployment to Europe.

That deployment landed me in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From there I was able to visit Switzerland, and even enjoyed a three week deployment on a training assignment in Bavaria. I followed friends to a ski school in Austria. I ended up on a weekend in Munich because the Army chaplain needed to fill a seat on a tour he was arranging. There I hooked up with a couple of American tourists and followed them around as they visited the sights. 

I did a lot of walking in Germany, wandering between and through quaint villages  and visiting castles and cathedrals. A missionary I knew took some of us to Worms, Idar Oberstein and to Heidelberg. More cathedrals and castles. Oh, and a trip to Trier, where I saw more cathedrals, and also some Roman ruins. I followed some friends to London, as well, for a week of study and meandering touring. 

After the Army my journeys became less broad and a bit less frequent. I wandered across the country during my return, spending a week in Chicago. I traveled a bit by train on that journey, and found it a fine way to see the country. That is a mode of travel I enjoyed in Europe, and think that seeing the United States that way was pretty nice, as well. 

A friend from the Army came home on leave shortly after I got out, so I wandered from Ashland, Oregon to Bismark, North Dakota to visit him. That was quite a journey. I saw Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington, passed through Idaho and Montana, and spent most of a week in North Dakota. 

My return on that journey carried me through Wyoming, and a very quick pass-through tour of Yellowstone National Park. After I returned I found myself eventually in Portland, Oregon. I went to school there, part of a different kind of journey. There I met my wife, and we settled for many years and years in the Santa Cruz, California, area.

Santa Cruz was not a bad place to settle, at all. Of all of the places I have visited, it was in the top three of places I would choose to dwell. Richmond, Virginia and Heidelberg, Germany share second place. So, my journey was not a bad one. My wife and I have been together on a kind of shared journey for over thirty years. For my part, at least, it has been good.

We raised children and have participated in raising grandchildren. Though our travels since getting married have been limited, our adventures have not. It has been another kind of journey. Oh, there have been trips to Disneyland, one of our favorite destinations. One other trip was to rescue some of the family from Texas, where an adventure of their own had not turned out as well as had been hoped. That was a memorable journey, highly treasured.

I must admit, however, that some of the most valuable journeys for me have been journeys of the heart. I am not known for being sentimental, and even those closest to me see me as a bit hard and unfeeling. Yet I have not been unaffected by the adventure of raising a family, one which is not yet completed.

Do I still long to travel? Absolutely. Yet I wouldn't give up the adventure of watching my family grow for the privilege of being on the road. Where to, next? Probably travel, exploring Southern Oregon and Northern California. Then expanding to take in the Western United States, as resources and opportunity allows. 

For a wanderer and follower, a less-than-intentional traveler, I have seen a bit of the world. It would be nice if I had taken a few more pictures, but for the most part I am satisfied.

There is far more world left to visit than my remaining time and limited funds will allow me see. I don't mind that, really. Those limits have always been upon me, and my style seems to be to take the adventure that offers itself in the context of the moment. That context now is watching another generation grow, and wandering around the place I now (again) call home.

After that? Another journey, and adventures unimaginable. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Imaginary Me-

I have an Imaginary Me. I think I always have. I suspect most of us do, but many people don't feel comfortable with multiple entities living within the same cranium. They won't talk about it, write about it, or even admit it to themselves. This writing is about a particular Imaginary Me. My Imaginary Me.

Imaginary Me has been wintering in Slab City, for the most part. The winter temperatures are tolerable for a van dweller. Imaginary Me lives in the Mobile Man Cave, a Chevy conversion van adapted for camping. Life in the Southern California desert is rather simple, which appeals to Imaginary Me.

Imaginary Me doesn't have to share his pension with anyone. He doesn't have a mortgage, and has established residence in Nevada due to the lack of state income tax there. While Slab City is a central location and general place of dwelling, Imaginary Me has been wandering around the connecting corners and edges of California, Arizona and Nevada. No particular plans. Just wandering.

It is now getting warm in the desert. Imaginary Me had planned to go to Death Valley to view the spring flowers, but the Internet indicates that the flowering will be sparse this year. Perhaps another year. Even so, the time to migrate is coming upon Imaginary Me. Some uncomfortably warm morning will compel the movement to begin.

This year Imaginary Me will move through the desert to the southern terminus of U.S. Route 395, and journey north the whole length of that route. Slowly. Available free camping at comfortable temperatures will dictate where to stop, and how long. Still, over time the whole of 395 will be traversed. Once the border with Canada is reached, a new direction will be selected. That, however, is in the future.

Imaginary Me is a coping mechanism. He is the embodiment of many of my desires. Reduced responsibilities. Simplicity of lifestyle. Solitude and freedom. I do not regret my responsibilities. Managing complexity in life can be rewarding, and I do not despise that. Solitude is not a longing for loneliness, and I value family and friends. Yet I Imagine. I Imagine Me, in another life.

The life of Imaginary Me is achievable, and more rewarding now than at any other time. My iPhone provides communication, a wifi hotspot, Internet connectedness, and serves as an entertainment center within a small living space such as a van. A laptop computer provides much of the same, and a more comfortable work space. Most of what is truly needed fits in a van, and is quite portable. Imaginary Me has much to do within the context of desert days and nights. It is not a life of loneliness and boredom. It is a rich yet simple life.

Imaginary Me watches the weather on the iPhone. Temperatures and precipitation, here and there. So do I. Real World Me. We scan maps on the computer and iPhone, seeking places to go and see. Highways and byways. I await spring in Southern Oregon. Imaginary Me awaits the compelling heat to motivate a migration. I anticipate getting out into the yard and doing some projects. Getting the barbecue going. Going fishing. Imaginary Me seeks a longer journey, full of simple adventure.

Camping. Exploring Southern Oregon and Northern California, even if just a bit. Not quite life on the road, but a bit of living on the road. So many roads. Real life isn't so bad, really. Real World Me can taste what is presently only imagined.

Perhaps I shall run into Imaginary Me as I get out on the road this season.

Imagine that.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Beer and Atomic Science-

I am a relatively intelligent person. That being said, I am also a bit slow on the uptake. I should have learned a critical lesson by the time I finished high school. I did not. I should have learned that life was made up of a certain percentage of dumb-assed shit. Pardon my French, but that is really the way it must be put, if the full impact of the matter I had missed is to be grasped.

I joined the Army after high school. During the Vietnam War. As I said, I really didn't have a grip on how much dumb-assed shit comprised the world in which I lived. That speaks well for my childhood experiences, by the way. One cannot grow up that naive without a loving and caring support network. Relatively successful American families work hard to create an environment sufficiently insulated so as to grow up children who are at least naive, and if all goes well they are supremely entitled, as well.

Why do I make this point? Because when I entered the Army I joined with the guarantee that I could study Nuclear Weapons Electronics. Why? Because nuclear weapons are not deployed in war zones. I could get my military obligation out of the way in an era of the draft and avoid combat. I could serve my country, and get my G.I. Bill without being maimed or perforated or psychologically damaged. I really thought I was smart.

While playing with the electronics and nuclear weapons, I learned something interesting. Beer and atomic science were related. Yep. Go figure. I liked beer already, but this just put the whole nuclear thing in perspective. And, yes, I was in the presence of genuine nuclear weapons. We did lots of secret stuff, which you can read about on the Internet but I probably shouldn't share.

How does beer relate to nuclear science? I am glad you asked. If you play with nuclear weapons there is some small  risk of exposure to radiation. Radioactive material, whether in the form of a solid, a dust, or a gas. Radiation is bad. If exposed, one of the first things they do is give you a lot of beer. If you are a beer drinker, you will probably see where this is going.

Beer is loaded with 'vitamin P.' It makes you pee. A lot. A sound bit of beer drinking leads to a substantial amount of urination. That is why a lot of the quality establishments in which I consumed mass quantities were equipped with the trough style urinal in the restrooms. Easier to hit. Less collateral damage. You probably get my drift.

So, lots of beer is prescribed to aid the body in eliminating the radioactive contamination. It doesn't hurt that it works well in conjunction with other anesthetics in taking the edge off of the symptoms of radiation sickness. It probably reduces the complaining during the long hours until recovery or death. Mmmmm. Beer.

What happened with me and the whole nuclear thing? I washed out of the program. You see, there is a lot of dumb-assed shit associated with the whole Army nuclear program, and I hadn't developed the requisite skills for managing the combination of shittiness and dumb-assedness. I got sent to supply school. I may have been a wash-out, but I was still enough of an asset not to waste as a bullet-catcher.

I don't know if supply was a good match, but I eventually got enough of a handle on the dumb-assed shit to make my three years into a fairly tolerable experience. A far superior experience to what I deserved. I was sent to Germany to fight the Cold War, and not to Vietnam to do whatever it was we thought we were doing over there.

Talk about dumb-assed shit. At least we actually won the Cold War. Sort of.

I need another beer.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Conservative Liberalism-

I have Internet friends (and even friends in real life) who are Conservatives. I have Internet friends (and even friends in real life) who are Liberals. Some are so clear and well defined in their beliefs that it seems they have gone to some kind of school where they learned the proper vocabulary and concepts. Perhaps some of them did.

I really don't know if there is a title for what I am. Sometimes I agree with what conservatives say. Sometimes I agree with what liberals say. Often I don't really agree with any of them. Generalities make creatures such as lawyers, real estate agents, cops and many others seem to be a bunch of bad guys. It is not a particularly good thing to work with generalities. The bad press and  tendency of people to speak critically about generalized entities makes knowing anything useful about them difficult.

I can't imagine that this country could run even as well as it does if all politicians were the crooked and self-seeking creatures I see in my mind when I hear the word "politician." Not all cops are corrupt, that I know. I was one of that clan, though only a lowly correctional officer. I knew a lot of cops. They were people, regular folk with a difficult job that most of them did as well as they could. A few were not the best of people, but hardly the corrupt monsters portrayed in story and film.

I know my own heart and mind. I don't like a lot of regulation. I think it is needlessly complex and expensive, and a good crook can easily find a niche in which to dwell in a needlessly complex system. Yet I also recognize that an unregulated society is dangerous and life in such society would be difficult. Where is the balance? Nobody can really agree. Everyone has their own preference for a balance point, and it is rarely the same as everyone else's.

Take taxes, for example. Taxes don't bother me. Not if they are used well to meet real needs. Some complain that taxes are too many, too much. I don't really think so. I think that the resources gathered by taxation are very poorly managed, however, and so in that sense the tax burden is great. What is taken from me as my fare share is wasted and abused. I would gladly contribute to a well managed system. As it is, I am robbed and the money is poorly distributed and badly used.

Maybe taxes do bother me.

In the country I call home, the United States, we have a two party system of government. Oh, there are other parties, but two parties dominate and vie for control in every election. I don't like either party. The seem to me to be two flavors of vanilla, and not a premium vanilla. Two bland and uninteresting flavors of vanilla. Swap one for another, and you still don't have much.

Is one party conservative, and the other liberal? Which, then, is better? Must I choose between them? What shall guide my choice? I am not conservative, at least not so in everything. I don't think I am liberal, at least not all of the time. Perhaps I practice Conservative Liberalism. Or maybe a Liberal Conservativism. How can I know?

I recently read an article (or most of an article) on a possible genetic factor in being liberal or conservative. That would certainly be easier. I could have a test of some kind done, which would tell me which camp I belong in. Then I could buy the right t-shirt, and learn to shout the proper slogans.

If it was like grade school, back in my day, we could all line up. The Liberals and the Conservatives could take turns picking us. Then I could have the same angst as a consequence of being picked last, and one team or another would get stuck with me. I suppose I am glad it isn't like that. I don't ever want to do that kind of thing again.

In those days I chose to not even line up at all. I would just go out to the far end of the field and stand under a big tree, gazing through the chain link fence and wondering what might be out there beyond the horizon. Part of me is still under that tree, gazing through the fence at the horizon.

What might be on the other side of that horizon? I wonder...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How to Win Against Depression-

If you are a depressive person, an individual given to the emotional state of depression, you have a battle to fight every day. You can win, but it is not the kind of win where the enemy is defeated and you can dance happily through La La Land for the rest of your days. The battle must be won over and over and over. A depressing thought, I know.

I am a depressive individual. That doesn't mean that I am deeply and clinically depressed all of the time. In that I am fortunate. It means that my mode of coping with some of the bumps in the road of life is to shut down my feelings. This tends to have a spiraling effect. When depressed I loose motivation and over time lose interest in most of the things in life that can bring joy. This leads to shutting down even more.

For someone seriously ill with depression there can be a decline in health, and a tendency to just stay in bed. Why get up? It is just not worth the effort. Whatever you do will lead to bad feelings, and who needs that?

Why do people get depressed? Some might be emotional habit. Much might have to do with heredity. Depression runs in families, and quite likely has to do with genes and the stresses of depressive family lifestyle.

What worked for me during the times when depression threatened to drag me down? The best advice I ever got was to "do something." Don't let the depression back you into a corner. Choose something to do, and do it until it is done. Small steps at first, but bigger ones can follow as the muscles of the will are stretched and coping skills are developed.

It is important to allow yourself to feel bad, as well. The urge to hide from bad feelings is at the root of depression. Numbness is the goal. Non-feeling. Good feelings are often fleeting. Bad feelings can linger, especially if they are linked to conditions in your life that seem impossible to improve. That need for numbness is often the root of the appetite for drugs, or excessive eating, or any number of other bad behaviors. Working through bad feelings is a skill that must be learned through practice.

Depressives often can be angry. Not just angry at something in particular. Generally angry. Mad all of the time, but at what they cannot say. Anger is an emotion easily achieve. There is some strange satisfaction in being angry. It is almost like happiness, but much more easily reached. Unfortunately, it will drain the life from you. Anger must be accepted, and mastered.

Action can help with the anger, and with managing the bad behaviors acquired to poorly manage the depression. Do things. Set a goal. I wrote a novel as my exercise. Day by day I added words and built a story. For someone else it could be making something. Woodworking. Knitting. Gardening. One of the best tools is helping other people. Engaging in life. Getting involved.

For the severely depressed, medication may be necessary. Counseling can also be a useful tool, and a good counselor can help with selecting and managing medications. Professionals are best, including many pastors and priests. Sometimes a very good friend can be an aid. The kind of friend who can help you move toward winning, not the kind who will help you justify bad depressive behaviors. Someone who can kick you in the butt, when necessary. A real friend.

Finding help and resources such as books and videos can be one of the somethings you do. Do something.

Victory can come only if you want to win. If you are satisfied in the numbness and the anger and endless justifications, you might not be ready to win against depression. If you are tired of being tired and needlessly angry and seldom finding joy in your life, you might be ready to begin the battle you will fight every day. One day at a time, you can win against depression.

Do something. Read up on the condition. Seek assistance, whether from your doctor or a community program or a support group. Take action, now. Take action, every day.

Do something.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Learning Stuff Can Be Fun-

When I was a kid I went to school. I learned the regular stuff that is taught, all of the way through high school. I even did a little college. Yet often the things I learned that I value most were learned largely on my own. Oh, I used the skills taught in school. You know, reading and such. Most of the time I used these skills to learn stuff I found interesting. Not necessarily school stuff.

I recall in elementary school going to an assembly. I don't know if they do those the same way, now. In those ancient days they had guests in to entertain and instruct. One guy did magic. He did a trick called the Die Box. I recall being fascinated. That was the idea, of course. Years later I studied magic and learned to do a few tricks. I even learned sleight of hand for vanishing small objects and creating illusions.

Steve Martin began his career in the Disneyland Magic Shop. According to his autobiography it was the performing he liked, more than the magic. For me it was the opposite. I did a little performing, but what I really liked was learning the secrets and practicing until I got some of them down. I have never been a good performer in the artistic sense. I have, however, learned how to learn stuff.

Most of it was on a hobby level. The idea of doing much of anything for the amounts of time necessary to earn a living at it seemed to rob an activity of it's magic. Work was work, and turning something fun into work seemed to be moving in the wrong direction. Turning work into fun would have been a great bit of magic, but I seemed to have failed in learning the trick of that.

I have enjoyed dabbling in wood carving, though I call myself more of a whittler than a real carver. It is an amazing hobby. I have played with calligraphy, the art of writing in its physical form. I have also done writing for content and style. Poetry? Yep. Done a bit. Some computer coding here and there. Languages, a little. Some photography. Other stuff.

Books and videos are fun to read and watch on the subjects which interest me. More than network television I prefer instructive and informative video. Lately it has been woodworking, from hand crafting to lathe turning wood. Fine furniture and art pieces. I would love to do a bit more of this kind of work, but so far work obligations and a lack of funds have precluded more than reading and watching videos. Even so, it has been fun.

Jillette Penn (of Penn and Teller) stated in a video visit to his home in Las Vegas that he loved to learn something new every year. At that time his hobby was learning to play slap-bass. That is the bass violin played so as to provide the bass in a small band. This is the instrument used before the invention of the bass electric guitar. Penn has a lounge in his house, a miniature night club, where he practices and performs. He said he enjoys practicing. I found that interesting.

For some people, exploring and mastering a specialty to the optimal height and breadth and depth that can be reached is quite satisfying. Others like to sample broadly, gaining some skills in a variety of arts and activities, yet constantly moving on to something new. I think I fit more properly in the latter category. There are a great many more things I would sample, if I could.

What am I exploring right now? Making beer, and loom knitting. Not at the same time, though a beer and some time working the knitting loom makes for a pleasant evening. Along with the loom knitting I have done a bit of crocheting, largely for finishing and connecting pieces. For beer I have played with the Mr. Beer system, and presently have a beer recipe I created in fermentation.

Learning stuff can be fun. What's next? I can't wait to see.

Time for a home brew and a few stitches.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Choose Life-

I have recently been watching a lot of Create TV. They have some programs on woodworking which I have wanted to see. Also some stuff on sewing, knitting, and crocheting. Ahem.  One recent program, indeed one I just saw for the first time today, is Growing Bolder. It is about crafting attitude, rather than wood or fiber products. The content of this program is much along the lines of my own thinking in recent years. The format is pleasant, and the programming is upbeat and positive. Nothing wrong with that.

The idea of finding and following my dream has been at the front of my thinking for quite some time. My personal ideals are such that following a path of responsibility is very important. I learned that there are dangers along that path. One is that there are many more needs out there than any single human can meet. Another is that those in need are not always careful of those meeting their needs. You can be sucked dry, and your life can become empty and meaningless even on a path of responsibility.

The answer to that is not to turn to a life of selfishness, at least for most people. I don't think that those who gravitate to a life of responsibility would easily succumb to selfishness, anyway. It is a matter of stewardship, of managing your self well so that you can fulfill your responsibilities. Selfless responsibility can stifle and even kill dreams, and dreams are what make us truly alive.

For those who are bound by responsibility for the diseased and infirm, the mentally ill and those who are ungracefully aged, the challenge of finding a dream and pursuing it is seemingly impossible. It is about this challenge that I have been doing a lot of thinking. How can one find their dream while carrying the burdens of others? Too often they struggle just to evade despair, even as they "do the right thing."

For me it was necessary to learn to fit the pursuit of the dream into the fulfillment of responsibilities. I do not think I am unique in this. Others must also find the time and resources to reach for the dream. There are some who are so driven by their dream that they shun responsibilities and leave dependents abandoned along the  wayside. Most of us can't do this, and that is good. Yet to abandon dreams is to abandon life.

I would love to have a master program to make it easier for everyone to find and pursue their dreams. I do not. There are too many twists and turns to life and the human psyche for me to answer the problem other than to say, 'choose life.' Encourage others to do the same. Throw a life ring to those drowning in despair, but don't let them pull you in with them. Always choose life.

Keep your eyes open. Helping others to achieve their dream might just enhance your own. Lift someone else's burden, from time to time, according to your own skills and desires. Even someone as socially challenged as I am can find a place to lend a hand, from time to time. Every once in a while, do something.

If you are burdened, let others help. Pride can be an awfully heavy thing to carry around. Just as there is no shame in helping others, there is no shame in letting them help. Sometimes it can be a great gift, letting others give.

Life is made up of little things. Choose life.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My Imaginary Life-

No. Not that kind of imaginary life. Really. I hardly ever think like that. What I am writing about is what I imagine my life could be if I weren't caught up in a web of responsibilities and consequences from my prior choices. Life with sufficient resources to live as I choose, without considering the needs and wants of others.

It is not a life of opulence. I don't value bling. I don't long for big houses and expensive cars. Indeed, I dream right now of being in the desert of Southern California, living in my van. Wandering around those communities, exploring and just living slow and simple and at a very low cost. Why there? The winter temperatures range from good to manageable. The restrictions on just camping free are minimal. Resources and great empty spaces are near enough to each other to make it work.

This life I imagine is actually do-able, if I did not have the previously mentioned responsibilities. I have the resources to make this life real. I just choose not to do so, in order to care for those to whom I am committed. The people I love. I prefer to meet my obligations, but my mind drifts away at times to that [imagined] desert and a life of simplicity and much quiet.

I do not regret my life. It is pretty much what I have worked to accomplish. Still, at times my mind drifts off and I imagine my quiet camp near Slab City or somewhere near the southern terminus of US Route 395. Imagine. It is probably better this way. I have an imaginary retreat to which my mind can go when I find the consequences of my choices less than ideal. A Happy Place. A Laughing Place.

These imaginings are more valuable to me because I could do them, if I were to choose a selfish course and abandon my responsibilities. Life as a wealthy vagabond yacht owner might have greater appeal, but it is not achievable for most of us. Certainly not for me. I have a used van and camping gear. I am only a decision away from the high-end hobo life.

Therein is the value. I daily choose to remain and share my days with those I love. I choose to keep this way of life. It is a real choosing. It is not a real choice to abandon the yacht. I can't have one. To abandon a viable option is a real choice. I choose this life, and am happy in the choosing.

Most of the time. The rest of the time, I can imagine.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bullies and the Myth of the Fair Fight-

Take only your fair share. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Say 'Please' and 'Thank you.' These are a few of the ideals of a socialized culture. Much like the ideals of chivalry, they are more ideal than real. They can be adopted, and for the most part they are. Except by bullies. And maybe some business people. And politicians.

For the sake of social order, which is held by many as somewhat better than chaos, most people adopt at least some of these rules over time. They may just be play acting, or simply parroting the words and mimicking the actions, but for the sake of order that is often enough. We even have a myth about fighting. Fight fair. Don't gang up, and don't bring unwarranted force into the battle.

Bullies, by the way, love a fair fight. They will, of course, bring back-up and a force significantly greater than their opponent. The fair part just assures that the person to be dominated doesn't bring their own back-up or overwhelming force. Unfortunately, more or less decent young people are taught the fair fight rule, and strive to comply even when confronted by unfair forces.

Do people really want to end bullying? Then eliminate the fair fight rule. Teach young people how to form alliances, work as a team, and how to bring overwhelming force to a battle. Bullies won't want to engage where the risk of loss is much more than no risk at all. It is hard to intimidate an individual if that individual is part of a group committed to severe and decisive retaliation.

I enforced the law in a jail setting for twenty years. I never fought fair. Oh, I followed policy and procedure in executing force. That is not the same as a fair fight. Those guidelines allowed us to work as teams to bring about the primary goal; end violence. We did that with pro-active and overwhelming force. The term 'fighting crime' is not just a descriptive metaphor.

It is possible to fight well, and decisively, without being 'fair.' A bully sacrifices any expectation of fairness when they use intimidation or excessive force without cause. Working out personal issues using the weak as a punching bag is not a viable cause. Violence is justified if it is used to end violence. To do so, it must be quick, decisive and overwhelming. Then the violence must end.

Bullying cannot be ended through meetings and slogans and songs. Bullying will only end when young people are armed with the tools to avoid intimidation, manipulation and violent subjugation. They must learn the art of combat, the art of teamwork, and vigilance. With discipline and training, anyone can learn to avoid being a victim.

Will there be blood and broken bones? Probably. Definitely more so than with songs, slogans and meetings. There will also be pride, strength and order. Hopefully, there will be reformed bullies, as well.

Here's to you, kid. Break a leg. Literally.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The King of Carpets and the End of Time-

I am fascinated by people I symbolize by the title "King of Carpets." The King of Carpets is an imaginary construction on my part representing those motivated and focused people who take their opportunities and with focused energy build an empire. Perhaps it is just an empire of floor coverings, but it is an empire.

I think I am fascinated by such people because I am not at all like that. Why am I not like that? Why can't I see that becoming the greatest floor covering distributor in the tri-state area is a worthy purpose? I actually know why I am not like that. It has to do with the End of Time. Not the actual end of time, of course. I haven't yet been there. It is the End of Time as I perceived it in my youth.

Imagination is a good thing, for the most part. Imagination has allowed us to build the modern world. It is a better world than the world of the past, unless you imagine that the past is better. Or course imagined pasts are generally imagined lacking some of the problems of the past, like war and pestilence and plagues and starvation. Other than that, the past was pretty good. I imagine that modern life is better.

When I was growing up I read a lot, and imagined more. I eventually learned that the Universe was winding down, cooling toward a long, cold death. Yep, that's the destiny of Everything. Energy exchanged until it all runs down. Black holes and dark dwarf stars. Nothing living. Really, really cold. Of course, later the model changed and there is some possibility that the Universe will collapse into a singularity. Really, really hot, and amazingly small. In either case, not much of a future.

An imaginative child exposed to this can assume that there is no purpose to anything, if these are the two likely  ending scenarios. Why put a lot of effort into becoming the King of Carpets if everything either grows unbelievably cold or collapses into a tiny hot point? Obviously this child needed counseling, but nobody could understand what he was talking about.

The King of Carpets cannot be bothered by the End of Time. Really, who has time for that? Sure, those carpets are destined to pass away, as is the money made from selling them. Still, the big house, fast car and wide screen television are worth some effort. Being the greatest floor-covering distributor in the tri-state area can get you this stuff. Anyway, the burning and freezing comes well after the cancer and Alzheimer and the long, cold sleep. Perspective is everything.

So the imaginative kid rendered unmotivated by the looming End of Time billions of years in the future never became the King of Carpets. I.. er, he probably bought a carpet or two from the King of Carpets, but he never built a textile empire. He did manage to build a pretty decent life, in spite of the prospects of absolute zero or the unimaginable heat of a collapsed singularity.

He even managed to engage that imagination beyond apocalyptic scenarios. He read a lot of books, most of which were works of imagination. He wrote a few, as well. He spent a little time toying with the Kings of Mundane Aspirations by drawing their focus outward toward bigger things. Did you know that doing that can make them mad? Not a good career move, by the way. Amusing, but not really a good idea.

Imagination obsessively embracing either Universal or personal mortality is not wholesome. Ignoring it is even less wholesome, but it really isn't a good focus. Balance. Yes. Imagination should embrace balance. So, I imagine that the imaginative child who too much embraced the End of Time might say something like, "Use your imagination, but use it as a tool. Create. Build. Sell carpets, or write books. It may all burn or freeze in the end, but in the now is where life happens. Imagine, but not too much."

So, if you are or aspire to be the King of Anything, I say, "Bravo." If not, imagine something. Read, think, create, and imagine. Do stuff. Do little things. Do big things. Do everyday things, and some things that nobody else would do. You don't have to be the best. Just your best. Imagine a Universe where the best goes on forever. No freezing. No burning. The best. Forever.

Be the King of Now.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Case of the Missing Rule Book-

It was around my junior high (now called Middle School) time of life that I began to realize that not everyone was playing the Game of Life by the same Rule Book. I could not recall receiving my copy, and so absorbed my idea of the rules from my parents and others close to me. That, by the way, is how we all learn the rules, such as they are.

Now at that time I began to feel a bit cheated. I had an innate fondness for clear rules, and the fact that not everyone was playing by the rules I had defined for myself was a bit grating. I began seeking the missing Rule Book. I looked to Science, but found rules there only applicable to the study of Things. People seemed to me to be greater than Things, so I quested on. I needed rules to live by. That quest led me to the nebulous realms of Religion and Philosophy.

Our family did not follow a particular religion in my growing up years. There were vague remnants of Christianity in our mix, but they were more of a tint than a full coloring. Coming of age in the late 1960's and early 1970's, I of course gravitated toward the popular popularization of Eastern Religions. My quest, however, was ill-defined. I drifted, like a leaf in a stream.

In the Army I met a fellow who followed Jesus in a fashion I had never seen. His level of commitment drew me to him, to learn what was the source of this passion. I was shortly after that swept up in the Jesus Movement. I relish the memory of that experience. I got, in a sense, the Rule Book I had been missing.

With the passage of time I learned that the Rule Book was not universally understood and applied, even in something so seemingly monolithic as Christianity. For some that can drive them from a particular faith. I know of many who were so driven. In my own case it drove me to think about the whole thing, and try to come up with something to hold it all together.

I would love to be able to share the set of rules I have come to understand, to present you all with a Rule Book that covers everything. I have not found such rules. I have, over time, come to understand the guiding principles that form my own life, but they are not really rules and not necessarily transferable. At least, not transferable in the form of a Rule Book.

When I dabbled in Philosophy I gained a lot of insights from philosophers, and was especially drawn to the philosophers who tried to build  systems of rules that explained everything. I longed to be that philosopher who came up with a universal system adopted and held in high esteem by everyone, but I failed. I know you are surprised, but I failed. Yet in failing I honed a way of thinking that runs rather joyously along the borders of Reason and Mysticism.

I am the result of a long flow of genetic materials coming together at a particular time, influenced by a culture which is itself the consequence of a long and convoluted flow of history. So are you. So are we all. So many influences, some determinant and others malleable. It is a river flowing, an unending dance. We swim with or against the current, but are all swept away.

Obviously, metaphor has come to be the core of my philosophy, such as it is. We only come to know the portion of the river that is flowing around us. We only learn the steps of the dance as we go along, learning from and teaching the other dancers as they flow like a river around us. We are swept along, for a time. Swept along.

Can anyone in the midst of the flowing waters know the River as a whole? Many will say they do, but I doubt the truth of that. Yet we can all find the flow of the River where we are, and swim with it, using the currents and eddies. Can anyone in the midst of the Dance know the Dance as a whole? I think not. Yet we can take our place in the Dance, interacting with the other dancers and adding to the whole.

It is obvious that this is the place where God would come into the picture. Indeed, in my own experience He did. Were I writing this with an evangelistic intent, I would introduce God as I have come to know Him and encourage others to know Him, too. That, however, I choose to save for another time and another writing. Here I am painting with metaphor, drawing analogies.

Hardly definitive, these analogies. Yet perhaps they may prove constructive. Who can know what one word or deed might bring about in such a mighty River, such an intricate Dance? Cooking meals. Raising children. Working at the task at hand. Even writing and telling stories. They are all part of the flow of the River, and steps in the Dance.

Rules are good. They are like the banks of the River, the fundamental steps in the Dance. They are part of the whole, but not everything. No, not everything. Go with the flow, and dance like nobody is looking. Take what you need, and add what you can. Try, and fail. Try again. Succeed. Imagine. Create.

There are plenty of rules out there, and plenty of rule makers. You can even make your own rules. As to a Universal Set of Rules for Everything, I am not so sure. I just don't think it is designed like that, this thing called 'living.' That is not such a bad thing. The River flows on, and the Dance changes over time. Perhaps so should the rules.

The Case of the Missing Rule Book is closed.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Defining Your Dream-

Some people have a passion that captures them in their childhood, and shapes their endeavors and actions throughout their growing years and into adulthood. Mary Engelbreit comes to mind. She started her career in childhood, with a passion that continues to this day. She experienced unusual success, but can serve as an example of where following a passion can lead.

Other passions lead to other careers. I served for twenty years as a jail correctional officer, and dealt regularly with people who followed their passion for the immediate gratification provided through drugs. Unfortunately, that placed them on the wrong side of the law, and committed them to some very unpleasant lifestyles. So, passion alone is not a sufficient driving force.

Passion defined into a dream, which guides bold but careful planning, seems to me to be the ideal. Sadly, for me it was not that simple. I don't recall a lot of passions in my youth. Curiosity. Interests. A love of barbecue flavored potato chips and long hours of reading. Solitude. No cohesive dreams, formed by passions.

I have to assume that I was not alone in this lack of defining passion. So, it is necessary for at least some of us to 'define our dream.' We have to find our passion.

But, how? It is not taught in school. I am not sure that it should be. Compelling a child to define their dream before they have developed sufficiently to actually have one might be counterproductive. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" seems like an innocent question to ask a child, but for some it is a bit scary. Some children are not ready to consider such a defining question.

For some, such as myself, that lack of consuming passion and a definite dream can go on for quite some time. A lifetime, in fact. I found myself at one point in time doing some research on the matter. What do I want to be, now that I am grown up? The literature is sadly small. Small, but there are some things, such as this book. Give it a look.

One piece of advice from Barbara's book is to try stuff. Take on jobs with the plan to move on. Don't get locked in. Plan on changes coming throughout your life. Make career steps (and other steps in life) just that; steps.

Of course, many life choices not only create opportunities, but create limits. Starting a family is a big one. Family obligations are deep and abiding. That is not bad, however. Limits can often focus and define our efforts. Choices that shape our lives can be seen as guiding forces, rather than binding limitations.

One exercise that I find interesting is to think about what you would do if you had a million dollars? The larger model for this exercise is unlimited resources. In either case what you think you would choose can be a revelation. It won't necessarily define your career, or the other aspects of your life, but it can make clear you greatest desires. Finding ways to fulfill those desires will define your dream.

What if you are just getting started with this whole 'define your dream' thing late in life? Granted, later in life the number of years left in which to work out your dream is smaller, but the wealth of experiences can be of great value. You already have tried a lot of things. Even with a rather miserable set of experiences, knowing what you don't like or want can be very helpful.

It is easy to regret your past. Most of us do, at least in part. Some wallow in that regret, and even define their remaining years by those bad experiences. That is sad, and wasteful. Better to mine those past years for what wealth you can extract, and then leave the tailing behind. Use that wealth to build the future.

Barbara's book has more exercises, and other advice. It is not a mechanical system for defining your dream, however. It is just a set of tools. Each of us must work on our dream. It is a lifelong task. A wonderful task. What better way to spend your life than crafting and building it?