The Indispensable Value of Free Time

I trust my friends to tell me the truth, and my best friend did just that this week.

“This trial needs to get the f* over,” said friend.

“Why?” said I.

“Because you’re acting like an asshole!”


Maybe those weren’t his exact words, but they were close. Another friend pointed out that I appear on edge. My boss really hates my time away. Everything suffers when our life, however temporarily, is disrupted by someone else’s schedule.

I’m on a jury. That’s all I can tell you about that. It’s not that bad, the sitting and focusing and taking notes part. That’s good for me, I think. I joke a lot about my ADD. I am truly an inattentive person, whose brain is always firing, whose eyes are always wandering, whose legs are always restless. I’m forced to sit, focus, be in the now. That’s good for me. I suppose that’s worth a couple of thousand dollars in lost wages. I suppose.

The hard part for me is the loss of routine.

My wife works a lot more hours than me, so I pick up the slack. Around the house, I do more these days. So I work a full day and, when I don’t take a much-deserved beer break with my buddies (or write a blog or something), I do chores. On my day off, I do a lot more. A ton. And these days there’s a lawn that needs mowing about every 4 days. A big lawn. I call it my park. And when I don’t keep it trimmed the dog poop is really hard to find. I’m happier when I can find the dog poop.

But lately, it’s hard to keep up.

I don’t know how I did it. Between the years of 2009 and 2013, roughly, I worked a 6-day work week. Voluntarily. I had another day off back then, during the week, but I wanted money more than time so I asked, and eventually demanded, that I get to come in on my day off. I make money when I sell stuff so, honestly, it didn’t cost the company any more. And I’m real good at what I do, so it actually benefited them greatly. And, for a while, I really enjoyed it.

Until I didn’t.

When I didn’t, it took me a while to get that day back. Folks get used to a person doing something so when I wanted that day back it took several months to get it. I call the day I got it back until today the happiest days of my life. I’m sure that’s a coincidence, but that’s honest: the last few years have been the happiest of my life, and I have two days off a week. Like I said, they probably coincide more than they correlate, but there could be some relation, too.

But not this month.

This month I sit in a jury box, in perfect attention, for three full days. Then I work, to sell stuff, for three others. I get Sunday off. I have a good routine on Sundays I don’t want to miss. I’ll tell you about it sometime, but when I don’t do it – this favorite Sunday thing – I get a little cranky during the week.

I’ve been really cranky, apparently, for the last few weeks.

You’ve probably noticed. No blogs. I love writing and I love sharing and I love Being Tom. I haven’t had as good an opportunity to do that in a few weeks. I’m spread too thin.

I have a good idea what I’m going to do when I get my time back. I’m going to take the boys for more walks. I will tackle some of those projects around the house that have been in procrastination-mode on my list. I’m going to write more. I’m going to read more. I will treat very dearly the time I’ve taken for granted. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

I’m not here to complain; I’m happy to do my civic duty. I think people complain about it too much. The system is put together so that we, the fair-minded peers of our community, can gather and open-mindedly judge our fellow citizens in legal and civil disputes. Happy to serve. But it’s hard. It’s hard to lose a lot of money and it’s hard to lose a lot of time.

I’ll be glad when it’s over. I’ll do my level best to be the fairest of them all, and I will do this thing that I must do with pride and attention. But I’ll be happy when it’s over.

And so will my friends.


Thank you for taking the time to read my gripe.

Sorry if I came across cranky. 😉

Her Day

Today, the most important person in the world has a birthday.

Now, you may not agree with who the most important person in the world is, and that’s okay. We can agree to disagree on that. Some of you might argue that it’s a mom or a dad, some other significant person in your life currently, or even yourself. You can make a great case to me that the most important person in our lives is ourselves. I would listen.

But not today.

Today, the most important person in the world, to me, is having a birthday.

I won’t reveal her exact age; that’s not a thing to do. However, there is a hint hidden somewhere in my ode to her a year ago, if you care to look. I said nice things about her then, too. She’s easy to say nice things about.

This weekend we took her out. When I say we I mean our friends and I. We took her to her favorite place in town, Kobe Seafood and Steakhouse, where a very entertaining pair of chefs prepared food for us Teppanyaki-style. We drank sake and beer and cheered loud enough for the whole staff to join us in celebration. It was fun. She was thrilled.

Afterwards, the entire contingent of us, nearing 30 in total, returned to our home on the west side of Redding and drank more beer, spirits, and sake. We cut the cake and everyone made kind of a big deal of her. Like she was the most important person in the world. She is. To me, she is.

My wife, Suzie, celebrates her birthday today. To tell you how much she means to me would be a lengthy novel in and of itself. To tell you how much I cherish her love and company would be more than mere words can say. Even for a typically loquacious guy like me, there aren’t enough words. I can tell you that after 20 years of marriage I’m happy to renew our vows this year. I’ll find some words to say then and, if I can’t find enough of them, I’ll make more up. She’s worth all that.

And today is her birthday.

I’ll take a second in this spot to thank everyone who has reached out to her already, everyone who spent time with her this weekend. Each and every one of you made her feel like she was on top of the world. You made me proud to call you friends, to call you family.

And then I’ll return my attention to her. It’s her day.

We met very young and have adored each other for decades. She has been a part of every critical moment of my adult life. I have been there for every triumph and tragedy in hers. We have shared ideas about the world, about life, about the people we know now and knew then. We have stumbled and caught each other. Nobody in the world knows me better. Not even me.

So I wanted to indulge upon readers today and wish a very happy birthday to the most important person in my life, my beautiful wife. Today she turns the page on a chapter behind her, and opens another to the great adventures ahead. No one can know what tomorrow brings, but I know that whatever she faces – be it triumph or tragedy – she faces it with me.

Happy Birthday, my love. Happy Birthday, dear Suzie.

You are the most important person in my life. And you make this man the happiest one alive. On your day you are my gift.

I love you. Times infinity.

 

Ghosts

Mind you, I don’t believe in ghosts.

But, if they do exist – and who are we to say one way or another what mysteries this universe holds – then we’ve got one.

Last year, after a dozen in our old place, we moved. The move wasn’t a long one, distance-wise. We were in the unique position to take our time with it so it was a long one, time-wise. We started moving in on June 15th and stayed our first night in the new place on August 8th. No stress.

In the intervening 6 weeks or so I visited the new place daily. I’d pack up 6 boxes and six beers, most days, and take stuff over. I’d quickly sort the 6 boxes (or so) and slowly drink the six beers. It was my time. I would sit on the newly-finished back deck and stare off at the trees in the distance on 100-degree nights, throw the ball for Ludo, and be at peace. I always try to find moments of peace in life. As hard as it is to find in this modern world it is ten times as important.

There was no furniture at the new place yet, not even deck chairs. However, I did have a couple of those old lake chairs with me, the kind that fold up into themselves and get stuffed in a like-colored sack. I had a red one and a blue one. I still have them, as a matter of fact. They have cup holders for beer.

The first time our friendly ghost showed up it was easily explainable, but weird. I went by one morning to turn off the lights I kept on at night to give the illusion of occupance, and something was amiss. When I had left the night before I had my two lake chairs sitting with each other near the living room sliding door. One of them, the red one, was sitting across the deck (a good 30 feet, I’d say), was folded up into itself, and was lying down.

Would a wild animal have done that? Could a strong crosswind? Why was the other chair entirely unmolested, then? I did not know and, after a brief moment of befuddlement, I chuckled and let it go.

This happened three times in those weeks between June 15th and August 8th. It was always only one chair. Always entirely across the deck. Always befuddling.

It has never happened since. Apparently, the winds aren’t as strong when the home is occupied.

However, the wind did something equally freaky a couple of months later. I was lying in bed at 2 am when I heard a rapping sound against the wall outside. I ignored it, for as long as I could. When it crossed over into the keeping-me-up phase of the haunting, I threw the covers off me and went to investigate. I could clearly hear the sound as I left the room. As I passed through the slider on the other side of the house to catch the sound in the act, from behind, there was no sound. That is, until I secured myself into bed and pulled the covers over me again. At that exact moment, the sound started anew.

Aghast, I forced myself to sleep.

The next night, the sound again. Again I leapt from the bed and went around the house only to find no sound once I exited. I stood in the freezing wind for 10 minutes at 2 am and no sound returned. Befuddled, I went back to bed. As soon as the covers were over me, the sound began again. This time I threw open the slider in the bedroom itself. This time, the sound stopped immediately upon opening the slider.

I went back to bed. The sound started again. I slept, incredulous.

The tapping sound has never returned, in the 6 months since.

A couple of weekends ago, the missus and I were sitting in the house, me at my computer in the back office, doing this kind of stuff, her in the recliner watching a TV program. I heard a slight hissing sound and a crash from the other room. My wife said, “what the hell?” I got up to look and, behind her, the chandelier had fallen from the ceiling. Just fallen. The date stamped under the ceiling cover was 2006. Apparently, this lighting fixture had been on the ceiling for 10 years and, quite suddenly, decided it had been there long enough. No damage. Nothing broken. It was easy to re-hang, it turns out, because no parts had given out on it. It just … fell.

Okay, there is no ghost. Stuff happens. Chandeliers fall; that’s gravity. Chairs fly; that’s the wind. The knocking sound? Perhaps it was something blowing around inside the wall, completely imperceptible from the outside but wholly audible from within. There is a perfectly valid explanation for everything, isn’t there?

Okay, one more.

Some months back, in the early part of the winter, we had a snowstorm. It was a pretty good one for our area and the snow stayed on the ground for several days. Unusual for where we live. In the morning I let the dogs out to play and walked around filming them, on the snow-covered lawn. Ludo briefly escaped through the kitchen slider and made paw prints on the deck. I called him back in, but the picture of his prints in the snow was cute. I then drove the wife to work (she has a great fear of driving in the snow) and went off to work myself. That evening I picked her up.

Some time before dusk we were standing in the kitchen dining area talking about the day, and I was standing by the back slider. I turned nonchalantly to my left and perceived something that made my skin crawl.

To set the scene, my kitchen slider opens on to my deck. Directly to the right of that slider are two steps down onto a small, brick-covered patio before going off onto my lawn. I keep my BBQ on that brick patio, to further set the scene.

What I spied, that made my skin crawl, were five large man’s footprints in the snow on that patio, going from my lawn – which had no footprints on it – to my deck – which had no footprints on it. Mind you, those paw prints from the morning were long gone, covered by the snow that continued throughout much of the day. The footprints in the snow never turned, never continued. Five prints, coming from nowhere, leading to the same. I had not been in the backyard since the morning. To my knowledge, no one had.

I’ll explain that one away by a curious burglar. He came from the greenbelt behind me and approached the deck. When he heard the dogs barking he stopped in his tracks, literally, and carefully walked backwards in his own footprints across that patio. He then brushed the snow behind him as he left as to leave no prints in the lawn. Yes. That is what happened.

I don’t believe in ghosts.

But if they do exist, somehow, we have one. He isn’t an especially bothersome one, except he doesn’t approve of two light deck chairs sitting with one another. He doesn’t like windy nights, either. He’s not violent, unless you count the chandelier. I’m guessing he understood there was nobody below it when he pulled it down. I’m guessing.

I am not entirely sure at this point what his message is, either. Does he not like people in his home? Is he not fond of the furniture arrangement? Does he not like the coffee?

I can change. If we’re going to share this domicile for a while, he and I can come to an arrangement. I’m pretty easy to get along with. I’m rarely grumpy. I don’t have a favorite seat on the couch; I’ll move over for him. I’m not asking for rent. I just want to, you know, get along.

And stay in my house.

That isn’t haunted.

It couldn’t be.

I don’t believe in ghosts.

The Ridiculously Simple Secret to a Happy Life

Life can be pretty tough at times. No question about it. We’re handed a raw deal a lot of days, battling for survival, fighting for love, toiling for money. It’s easy to get discouraged. In the rough environment of life its hard to stay upbeat, but I do a pretty good job of it. In fact, I get asked all the time, and have for decades, how in the world I can stay so positive. It’s a good question; let me address it.

First of all, I don’t. I mean, I don’t always stay so positive. Tuesdays generally suck, and there are times I say dumb things to my wife and she doesn’t talk to me for a day and a half. I’m not real uplifted at those times. I see what’s going on in the world and I get discouraged. People can be terrible to one another. Especially the rich and powerful ones. The richer and more powerful, it seems, the more terrible. It’s disheartening.

But, by and large, folks are right; I do tend to keep a positive outlook. I always think the sun is going to come out tomorrow, to borrow a phrase.

When people ask me that question, how I can remain so positive, I usually respond in some offhand way and take a drink of my beer. Beer is usually around when I’m talking to people. I’ll often say something sly like “beer” or something profound like “nothing’s ever really that bad, is it?”

And I suppose there’s a little truth in both of those answers but the real big, enigmatic secret of my positive outlook is this: I work on it. I worked on it all the time when I was younger. I work on it all the time, now.

Like anything, when you really work at a thing, you get better at it. It comes naturally. Like the way I write now or the way I come up with superhero gaming stories on the fly that seem like I’ve worked on them for weeks. Or the way I say what the football announcer is going to say about a play moments before he does. Those are my 10,000 hours.

10,000 Hours

Malcolm Gladwell, in his bestseller Outliers, came up with the 10,000-hour rule of mastery. Basically, it states that to be the best, you have to put in the time. Somehow he came up with the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, or craft, or whatever. Not “somehow,” actually, he did a lot of research. Virtuosos, basketball legends, chess champions, and whatnot, they all put in the 10,000-hours-to-mastery, according to his research. Now, not everyone agrees with the idea of the 10,000-hour rule, but you get the gist, just the same. To get good at something, do the work.

When I was a younger man, I admired people who smiled and laughed, even through the worst of times. I wasn’t able to do that. As a young man, I was shyish, nervous, and depressed, particularly in my teens. I would “fake it to make it,” at times, but overall, not so happy. Along the way, I made the decision that I wanted to be a different kind of man than the man I was developing into. I started doing something weird: looking at the bright side of life, as much as humanly possible. I started to smile all the time. And mean it.

I don’t know when I turned the corner, when I hit my 10,000-hours, but somewhere along the way I did. Now, as long as my wife is talking to me, I’m pretty much upbeat pretty much all the time.

Just kidding. It’s the beer. 😉

Mastery

I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, why in the hell would you waste your 10,000 hours on something so ludicrous as thinking positive and making up superhero stories. I mean, you could have been a chess champion, for god’s sake!

No, I couldn’t. That requires hours and hours of intense concentration and, if you know me, you know I can’t concentrate on any one thing for too long without losing my damn mind. Call it ADD. Or call me a restless soul. Call me Tom, being Tom. I’m actually okay with it. I don’t much love chess, anyway.

But I could have been a basketball legend. I like basketball. If I were taller, faster, and could shoot a basketball, I could have been a legend.

But I digress.

Some of the rest of you are thinking this: well, that sounds like too many hours to me, and I don’t need to be that positive about anything.

I’ll wrap both of your thoughts into one cohesive response in just a minute, but first I want to practice my jumper.


Okay, I’m back. I was 2 for 10. Is that good?


Now, here’s that cohesive response: awesome! If positivity isn’t your thing, don’t worry about it. Your thing may be chasing money, some people really get into that. Your thing may be mountain climbing or knowing everything about cars, or memorizing all the lyrics, or studying the history of man, or astrology or a certain religion or something. Those are really great things, and you’ve probably already put in a lot of time in them already. Sweet. As long as your passion isn’t collecting body parts or torturing chickens, it’s probably a pretty good one.

Follow it.

But here’s the catch: know it for sure.

You’ll know you’re on the right path if you’re pretty much happy all the time. If you spend hours upon hours chasing money but can’t ever get enough and you’re pretty much miserable doing the chasing, it’s not your thing. I know. I tried to make it my thing once and I hated it.

But if you absolutely love the chase and you absolutely love the payoff, climb that mountain. Study them stars. Play that stock market. Sing those songs. Loud and proud.

Happy Life

I read a lot of psychology. That’s still probably my favorite thing to read. There’s an entire branch of psychology, and it’s still pretty young compared to all the other branches, called positive psychology. It essentially studies the condition of being happy.

Some time in my 20’s I came across it and I began to swallow up whole volumes of the stuff from Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Jonathan Haidt, Sonya Lyubomirsky, Carol Dweck, Abraham Maslow, and Viktor Frankl. Just to name a few. Studying the science behind positivity helped to shape me into the man that I am.

There’s a lot of fluff out there, too. Tons of articles and books try to give you a step-by-step procedure on how to be happy. It’s crap. There are no step-by-step procedures that work for everyone. Everyone is different, so everyone can’t chase the same path to a better life. If it’s acquisition of wealth that makes you happy you’re going to follow a different path to your personal paradise than the person who loves, say, all the creatures in the sea.

The only real secret to happiness, and all the great positive psychologists expound upon this, is following your own path to it. Gasp. Be yourself. Just make sure you know who that is, because the very first thing that happens to all of us in life is we get told by everyone who it should be. Over and over and over again, by parents and teachers and peers. By preachers and advertisers. By society. The first thing I did on the road to a happy life and a positive outlook was break that conditioning.

It’s much harder than you think.

Breaking free from the programming leads most folks into further negativity. Rebels tend to rebel. It’s hard not to get bitter when everyone is trying to move you back into the box. It’s hard not to get judgmental when you feel like you’re free but it seems like everyone else is still trapped.

I don’t think that way.

Wanna know why?

Because just the same way that everyone’s path doesn’t work for me I know that my path doesn’t work for everyone. Nobody’s better. We’re all just different.

So if you can figure out who you are, avoid judging others for who they are, and not cause harm along the way, you’ve done pretty good. In fact, you’ve done great. You can smile and laugh in the utter self-assurance that life is exactly what it should be, for you.

Life is exactly what it should be, for me.

That’s why I’m always so positive. 😊