Raising Joy

I think it’s fairly obvious that I’m a pretty jolly person. I come from a pretty happy family and I surround myself with a fairly happy bunch of friends. I read a lot of books about happiness and I’m attracted to quotes that are uplifting and inspirational. One of my favorite all-time words is “positivity.” I smile and joke a lot, and I try to never be cruel. I guess those are good indications of a pretty happy guy.

I don’t know for sure if happiness is easier for some than others. I don’t know that. I don’t know if some people are prone to happiness or if this is something we all have to work at equally, but we do all have to work at it. Nobody gets to be happy without effort, this much I know.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, considered one of the world’s leading experts in empirically-studied positive psychology, tells us that our happiness is 50% genetic. We can’t do anything about that. A further 10% of our happiness is dictated by circumstances in life beyond our control. Environmental factors, the ones we cannot change. This means, combined, that our contentment is 60% fixed. Now, you pessimists out there in the studio audience might be saying to yourself this: If over half of our happiness is beyond our control, what hope do we have!

But that ain’t what Sonja says.

Sonja, who has forgotten more about staying positive than you and I will ever learn, is overjoyed by the empty part of the glass. 40% of our bliss, she exclaims gleefully, is controlled by us!

I’ve never met her so I’ll confess, the “exclaims gleefully” part of the above sentence was creative license. But I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts she’s exclaimed gleefully once or twice about it. Happy people do that.

I first read Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness, a few years ago, maybe around 2013. It’s a good book and one of the best in the realm of positive psychology. I didn’t know the percentages mentioned above when I started the book, but I did know that a large portion of our satisfaction in life, and a great deal of our destiny, is controlled by us. I know that because I challenged the universe for it and won.

Fifteen years ago I was a miserable person, more or less. Money was tight. I didn’t like where I lived. I hated the work I did, and I saw no prospects for growth or happiness in my future. It was tough. I told a friend of mine back then that I woke up one morning and wished I could burn everything down in my life and take only my wife and dogs with me.

Not long after that, that’s exactly what I did. Well, I didn’t burn anything, that would be arson or something. But I dumped it. All. I chased a new dream. I’m still chasing new dreams but if I don’t achieve them, that’s okay for me. Because I’m not in a miserable place anymore. I’m happy. Now.

I know that. I know that because around the time of that low point I created a spreadsheet for myself and I listed all the most important things in my life – things like marriage, health, home, outlook, camaraderie – and I entered them in that spreadsheet. My life is measured in these (currently) 11 attributes on a scale from 1 to 4. 1 is lousy. 2 needs improvement. 3 is good and 4 is perfect. About every 3 months I open the old spreadsheet and I rate each of those important attributes and when I’m done the bottom of the grid gives me a percentage for my current state of happiness. I call it my “Quality of Life Scale.” 15 years ago that scale fed me the number “47.5%.”

That’s a pretty low level of satisfaction.

I vowed then to fix whichever aspects of my life ranked below a 3. Systematically. If it ain’t “good” or “perfect,” to me, it’s got to change. Today, and for the last several years, my quality of life has ranked in the 90th percentile. That’s like waking up joyfully 9 out of every 10 days, or better.

My genetics have not changed. The relative, uncontrollable circumstances of my life have not changed, around me, in years. I still get hit with shit all the time. I didn’t know it when the journey upward began but I was working on Sonja Lyubomirsky’s 40 percent. I was working on the only thing I can change, and that’s me.

I could tell you how. I can tell what negative environmental factors I’ve had to dump along the way. I could tell you the struggles we face when we change and how some people don’t like it. I could tell you about the times I’ve lost my way.

I could. I probably will. But today’s session has already yielded 33% more words than a standard entry should, so all of that will have to wait.

I’ll finish with this, though:

If you’re feeling down, find out why. Write it down. Categorize the ten or so aspects of life that mean the most to YOU. Rate the categories. You’ll probably find out that there are many aspects of your life that are fine, even great. Then take the ones that are not and figure out how to make them better, by your standards. Forget what makes the world happy with you, or what is considered “good” or “perfect” by societal or cultural standards. How does each category get better for you.

Happiness isn’t a gift. It can’t be presented to us by anyone. We have to find it. We have to find it and we have to work to get it and we have to fight to keep it. But I don’t believe anything is more important in life than happiness. And we control nearly half of it.

That’s a pretty good percentage, by any measure.

So go fill the rest of your cup, my friends.

Go fill it with joy.

Standing Behind the Sitting QB

colin kaepernickWhile I was out of town this weekend, on a marathon run to Monterey County to celebrate my 30th reunion with the amazing Alisal High Class of ’86, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers took a seat and started a controversy. I heard about it immediately, when my NFL app fed me the news bulletin. I saw the backlash immediately, too, on the social media platforms I follow. Many spoke out instantly with disdain for his actions and for the words Colin Kaepernick chose afterwards to explain his actions. My own reactions were mixed and I decided to let the thing play out a little, while I enjoyed the weekend. I did.

My initial thought, and the one I shared with the lovely companion I had along on the ride, was this: I had no problem whatsoever with what Colin Kaepernick did, but I thought he was dumb for doing it. My thoughts on the matter have evolved from my initial reaction, as thoughts should, but they haven’t necessarily changed. I still stand firmly behind the actions of the sitting QB, but I’ll watch with interest before I judge the man.

Why I defend his right to take a seat during the national anthem should be pretty obvious; I believe in the rights of people over the rights of nations. I adhere to the philosophy that a person has a right to peaceably protest in any manner that they choose. I believe that every topic can be viewed from multiple perspectives and, because of that, I think we need to be tolerant of multiple points of view. I also believe inequality is an issue in this country – on this planet – and that needs to be addressed. So if a man wants to take a seat to protest his perception that the issue of inequality is not being properly addressed, kudos to him.

Why my initial reaction was that Colin Kaepernick was dumb for taking this stance is a bit more complicated and, probably, unfair to him. I viewed the man as a privileged athlete with a lot to lose, and I saw him as an individual who had – to my knowledge – never taken a stand like this before. I questioned, internally, whether or not he was doing this to bring awareness to a cause or doing this to get attention, and if he truly understood the implications of this action. He painted a target on himself, and became a martyr for a cause that I wasn’t aware that he believed in. He was shooting his career in the foot and I wasn’t sure that he was prepared for the aftermath.

But that was hubris on my part. To assume that I know anything about the struggles another man has gone through, inside his own self, to get to the point where he takes such a stand, well that is arrogance. I don’t know what led Colin Kaepernick to decide to sit during the national anthem and I don’t know what he will do next, now that he has. If he has thrown himself on the sword and expects that to be all he has to do then my initial reaction stands. If, however, this action is only the beginning and Colin Kaepernick becomes a champion in the fight against inequality then my initial reaction was wrong.

Regardless, it was his choice and I defend that choice. The song he sat through repeats the line “land of the free and home of the brave” four times in the full version, and Colin Kaepernick bravely exercised a freedom. He risked a great public and professional backlash to make what he feels was a necessary stance. We should honor that. We should wait a little longer before placing judgments on the character of the man. We should honor the constitutional rights that he has, that are echoed in the very song that he sat through. We should watch his actions now.

If he ducks and dodges, racing out of bounds, then we can judge his actions unworthy. If he stands tall against the rush and continues to deliver strikes against injustice, then we can judge his actions noble. Either way we should judge his actions as free, and defend his right to make them, while that banner yet waves.

I think that is what America is supposed to be about.

Thinking Is the Enemy

During the move, and the time leading up to it and after, I spent a lot of time doing things I didn’t want to do. That’s okay; sometimes we must. But in order to accomplish those grave daily responsibilities we must give up something that truly matters to us, at least in the short term.

For me I cut a little bit of time out of everything I do and a whole lot of time out of reading books. The reading of books suffered the most.

I do a lot of reading, and not just books. I get daily news sources delivered to my e-mails, I get suggested articles from Facebook and pocket.com – and from friends – and I have a sitting inventory saved in my “pocket” for “later.” I try to read other blogs to see what interests me about them that I might incorporate in my own blog. I also read other blogs to see what does not thrill me, so that I can avoid the purgatory of monotony. I hope I do that. I hope you let me know if I don’t.

But books.

I can’t say I’ve ever been an avid book reader. I never read a book in high school. Seriously. My career in reading started some time in my twenties and consisted almost entirely for the next decade of science fiction or Anne Rice. I probably read more books in my twenties than I have read since. Some time in my early thirties I stopped reading fiction, at all, just because it didn’t thrill me anymore.

I’m a plodding reader, who has tried his hand a million times at speed reading. I assimilate information pretty quickly, so that’s not the problem. The problem is one of focus. I think quicker than I read so often I’ll be a page and half into the meat of something really invigorating but I haven’t actually read a word. I was a million miles away, thinking of some game adventure, or about finances, or what I’m going to grill for dinner or the next book I’m going to read after this one. My reverie is usually broken by some incredible line in a book that makes me go back and find out how we got there. So I’m a slow reader, because I have to read so much of it twice.

Still…

I would say I finish about 20 books a year. Some years less, some years more. I will read 1/3 of a book a lot and then put it away and never finish. I think by a 1/3 of the way through a book if it hasn’t captured you it’s wasting your time. Sometimes I’ll read 5-10 pages and already decide.

I’ve tried listening to books but I have the same problem. My mind wanders. Call it attention deficit disorder if you must, or call it an active mind. I call it a scattered brain. My scattered brain has probably robbed me of more accomplishments than any other factor has. Focus is so important to setting and keeping goals. It’s practically mandatory. I lack it.

What was I saying?

Oh yes, books. This entry started with a desire to tell you a few words about a short book I started this week, now that I have time to read again, and how interesting it is only 16% of the way into it. I was even going to quote a pretty cool phrase – “ego is stolen; confidence is earned” – in describing my thoughts about it. But I got derailed.

You’re probably used to that by now.

Next time I boot up I’ll probably have something entirely different on my mind so I doubt I’ll get around to telling you about Ryan Holiday’s “Ego Is the Enemy” but, so far, it’s a pretty good book. He also wrote “The Obstacle Is the Way” a couple of years back and I’ve read it, too. Cover to cover. If I finished it, it must be good.

If you finished this, you probably have better focus than I. Thanks for doing that, it means the world to me. Now go read something substantive, you’ve earned it. If you’re inclined, post below what you read immediately after this and I’ll go read it, too. I promise. I might not finish it and, in fact, I might not actually digest the words I’m reading, but I do promise to check it out.

After all, now that I have more free time than I have boxes, I have a whole scattered brain to fill. 😉

A Dogs’ Tale

In dog years I’ve been married for 13 decades. If you throw in courtship the wife and I have been together for nearly two centuries.

I’m sure it feels like that to her sometimes. 🙂

But as long as we’ve been together I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have a dog. This is a tale about them.

Mick
Mickey

Mickey was our first pup, and we picked him up at a party some time in the early 90’s. It was a New Year’s party, as I recall. I don’t remember the hosts and, in fact, I don’t think I really knew them. I only remember they had some puppies they were giving away. I also remember some clowns at the party thinking it was funny to let some curious little dog get too close to their cigarettes and I remember asking the owners if I could have that one. When they said yes the future Mrs C and I let those clowns have it for messing with “our dog.” Mickey was with us for the next 13 years.

Mickey was the only true “mutt” we ever had. In 1997, when we got married, we picked up a companion for Mick, a black lab/german shepherd mix we named “King.” Suzie wanted to name him “Hades” because he was black as the night, but I thought that sounded a little too evil. We compromised on “King Hades,” and just always called him King.

We had talked about a companion for Mickey for months and had decided on a black dog because I had loved a black lab a friend of mine owned as a kid. I was working one day when a neighbor across the street from where I was came out and asked me if I knew anybody looking for pups. I asked what kind. Black kinds, he said. I sighed heavily knowing the universe just works that way sometimes. He brought out King. I brought King home.

King2
King

King passed away five years ago yesterday. That boy made it 14 years in our lives.

Mav3
Maverick

The story of Maverick, our first golden retriever, is documented in another post back in March. Maverick came along in 2002 and stayed with us for 11 years. Maverick is the reason I always shop for golden retrievers now when it’s time to get another.

If Maverick is the reason I shop for goldens, then my next dog Moxie is my validation. Moxie came along in 2009 when Maverick was already 7 and King was already 12. Moxie fell asleep on the ride home from the breeder and basically slept through his infancy. I’m not kidding. When we took him down to the vet for his first examination the doctor slid Moxie back and forth across the table trying to get him to wake up. He wouldn’t. We asked the doc, laughing, “is that normal?!” and the doctor cackled back “NO!”

Moxie
Moxie

I think Moxie had the benefit of those two very senior brothers during his childhood because he just seemed to learn very quickly how to listen, understand commands, and stay out of trouble. He is also the most food-motivated dog I have ever known. I can remember a time when Maverick was shrinking like crazy in weight and Moxie was ballooning to nearly 100 pounds. We found out why … the little sucker was stealing all of Maverick’s food and Maverick was letting him. Maverick was always more motivated by “play” than “food.”

Speaking of which …

About a year ago, 2 years after Maverick left us, Ludo joined the clan. Ludo, it turns out, means “I play” in Latin and he took that name literally. Food? Sure, if I must. Love? Yeah, I guess, if it doesn’t take too long.

Ball? YES!

Ludo
Ludo

Ludo and his ball are inseparable. Or I should say “balls” because he has about 15 of them to choose from. Let me tell you, though, when he chooses one of them no other will do. Go ahead, pick up a different one and throw it, he’ll watch it in the air and if it isn’t the one he brought you, forget it. I believe that Ludo is the smartest dog I’ve ever had, but he is the most willful one, too. He literally talks back to us when we’re scolding him, with furrowed eyebrows and guttural bark.

Moxie loves him. We do, too. But I believe Ludo is the universe’s way of paying me back for Moxie. 😉

It’s amazing how different they all are.

Thinking about King yesterday on the five-year anniversary of his passing prompted this post; it got me thinking about the pups we’ve had together, the missus and I. He was our second dog and the last dog we owned that wasn’t a golden retriever. We’ll probably go gold again next time, but that story is still another 5 years away.

So there it is, the Cummings line of amazing companions. Each had their virtues and each had their vice. Each had our hearts. If I could have them all here together I wouldn’t hesitate; King would love Ludo as much as Mickey would hate him. Mickey would probably slip through a crack in the fence today and go find something smelly to rub in by the pond. Maverick and Ludo would be chasing balls while King chased a frisbee. Moxie would sneak into the house and eat all their food.

Mrs C and I would be in heaven.

I can’t imagine a life without these dogs. I’d love to hear stories on here about some of your animals, if you have the time to share. I know I’ll be sharing more in the years to come.

In the meantime, have a great day – and go hug something furry.

The Box Ate My Homework

I was asked by a friend or two what happened to my blog entry last week. That was the most touching thing I’ve ever been asked. Thank you all for your patronage; or at least both of you.

The truth is, it got lost in the move. While piling up boxes in the Durango and unloading boxes from the Durango, and lugging boxes back and forth from room to room, then emptying boxes and wondering where in the hell everything was going to go, the brain never rested long enough to write. The butt never rested long enough to do a damn thing other than build glutes from bending, walking, and climbing. I would be dead right now without beer.

Seriously.

But I’m not complaining. My favorite thing in the world, behind this activity right here and spending too many hours on Sunday mornings in bars with friends, is playing music loud and slowly consuming suds while doing chores. Unpacking is hours and hours of THAT.

And we’re nearly there, if you don’t mind a lie. All settled in and happy as a lark if you don’t mind two.

Change is hard, but it’s alright. I’m not the only one to go through this, and I know some go through this far too often. I have a roof over my head, a beautiful wife, and two wonderful golden dogs that we brought with us. Life is really, really good.

But if you must know how Tom was being Tom in the week and a half since we last spoke, I have been caught up ingloriously in rearranging possessions exactly 1.9 miles from their previous location. In the scant moments I have not been either lugging cartons of domestic paraphernalia or selling appliances to pay for it all, I have been engrossed in either political news or cramming for fantasy football drafts.

Four or five hours a night I have slept, too.

Oh, and I went to a cool party. Happy birthday, friends who had the party. Wouldn’t have missed THAT for the world.

That’s about it. I’m certain in the weeks ahead you’ll hear more of my thoughts on the end of the dumbest political season ever, I’ll write an obituary on the (finally) failing Trump campaign, I’ll divert my attention to how bad Mrs. Clinton is at being president, I’ll talk about the Rams and their occasional victory as the team in LA, I’ll start to write other things in other venues as I commit to the “career” part of my writing career, and I’ll be Tom just as much as I can possibly be Tom.

That last sentence ran on for 91 words and I’m keeping it exactly like that. To hell with the rules, I’ve been moving.

So I’ll see you all in a couple of days when, I promise, I’ll write something of substance. I’ve been meaning to tell you all for a while now about my twenty-year research in positive psychology, the Quality of Life spreadsheet I invented, Abraham Maslow, and the view from the top of the pyramid …

But I’ll probably talk about the Rams instead.

It’s almost football season.

Happiness can wait. 😉

 

Where The Heart Is

The bulk of the week, this week, has been taken up by the incredible amount of energy and attention a major move entails. Because we had plenty of time and a short distance to hop we were able to get a lot of non-essentials over early and often, but crunch-time is ever the bitch. I don’t even mind the moving of things; the stress is in figuring out where things that fit so perfectly in the old are going to fit in the new. But the hardest part is saying goodbye to the memories. That’s even harder on Suzie.

When we moved into the Cal Ore house, in 2004, we brought King, Maverick, Muse, Mischief, Marlboro, and Majesty. Two dogs and four cats. We added a beautiful bird, Baby, along the way and raised her until her unexpected death in 2014. We added Moxie in 2009 and Ludo in 2015. We lost all of the others along the way. The memories of the fallen are the hardest to walk away from; only pictures will remain.

I will miss the deck, and the living room where we had all the parties. I’ll miss the blue tile, believe it or not. I’ll miss the office where I wrote so many adventures, so many journal entries, and where I started my blog. I’ll miss the hot tub. I’ll miss the hell out of the hot tub come winter. I’ll miss all the storage.

I won’t miss the rocks in the backyard, I won’t miss the railroad ties. I won’t miss the floors or the popcorn ceilings. I won’t miss the leaking roof in the garage we never could figure out. I won’t miss looking off the back of my deck into the neighbor’s bedroom, and I sure as hell won’t miss having a neighbor looking down on me from theirs. I won’t miss that old gate. I won’t miss the ungodly amount of leaves that collected in my front yard. I won’t miss the Cal Ore hill.

Every change has an equal amount of good and bad in it. Every cloud has a silver lining and every rose a thorn, they say. I look forward to the change just as much as I regret it. The new backyard is big enough to be a park to the boys, and they already cherish their visits there. That alone makes me love the move.

I like the openness of the inside of the new house, and the privacy in the backyard. I like to look off my deck and see no one living behind me. I like that there’s carpet everywhere; I detest hardwood floors. I like the faster internet and the double doors leading into the master bedroom. I like the steep driveway. I don’t know why, I just do. I like the new deck, maybe better than the old deck. I like the extra closet we get. I absolutely love the neighborhood.

The bulk of the week, this week, has been taken up by hustle, bustle and emotion. My body is sore, my brain is tired, and my heart is torn. I’m about as excited as I’ve ever been in my life. I had to make hard choices to get here but I know they were the right ones. I leave behind a shell of memories this week and stack my stuff before a new hearth. I can’t wait to start piling up the nostalgia.

It’s good to be home again. 🙂

One Foot In Front of the Other

I’ve been away from the keyboard for a couple of weeks, so the music of language is a little blurred today. I woke up with a hankering to get back into the swing of writing, but quickly had no ideas. So I poured coffee, opened a blank page, and just started to compose. Like Kris Kringle said to the old Winter Warlock you just put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking across the floor. I’ll put one word in front of another today and see what comes out.

So far, I’ve talked about Kris Kringle. That’s a blog first.

This week the Democratic National Convention is in full swing. Last week it was the RNC’s turn but I was out of town on a whirlwind family reunion tour. I saw none of it. I haven’t really watched any of the DNC this week, either, except for catching a replay of FLOTUS’ speech earlier in the week and a few minutes of POTUS last night. They both made great speeches. I’ve been a fan of Mr and Mrs Obama since the beginning, and I think Barack is one of the great orators of our time. It’s just fun to watch him talk.

I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I think Barack Obama has done a worthwhile job in the toughest seat in the land, following the worst president I can remember. I voted for the last four presidential victors.

But when it comes to the conventions I didn’t have a lot of desire to watch them. I’ve watched so many of them over the years that I can honestly say that what I’ve learned from watching conventions is that you learn absolutely nothing from watching conventions.

It’s a week-long sales pitch.

The R-one is great for people who lean to the right, the D-one is great for those who lean to the left. And that’s all you get in America, a two-dimensional image. 90% of the country thinks you’re either with them (a Republican/Democrat) or against them. It’s bizarrely shallow.

I lean farther to the left than any of them, and sharply down. I exist more on a grid, I guess. Even that is too confining, though. I think we’re more complex than that. I detest labels.

The latest polls show that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – the two least-liked candidates in history – are running pretty neck and neck, at somewhere around 45% each. That means, to me, that 90% of America is wrong. Can I write in Kris Kringle?


Last week, like I said, I was on a whirlwind family reunion tour and had a great time down in Hollister, then in Lake Don Pedro, and back into the city of Oakley for a wedding, in which I was the best man. I gave a speech. My first ever. I felt awkward but was told I did well. Was I loud enough? I walked away wanting to give more of them. I want to stand in front of people and talk. Maybe I’ll run for office.

In the meantime, once I’m settled purposefully in at the new pad, I’m going to jump online and put in some proposals to some writing sites I’ve found. I could make a living doing this, or at least feel pushed to do it more. It’s the best thing I do all week, when I’m not running whirlwind reunion tours, making wedding speeches, bashing dumb candidates, or drinking beer on Sunday mornings with pals. I want to do this every day.

Well, every day except Sunday, Monday, Thursday and occasionally Saturday in the Fall. Football is back in just 42 days and that’s going to require a great amount of my energy and concentration. While tracking fantasy stats, bashing dumb coaches, yelling expletives at the big screen and drinking beer on Sunday mornings with pals (some actions are perpetual), how will I write?

One word at a time, I suppose. One foot in front of the other.

 

If you want to change your direction,

If your time of life is at hand,

Well, don’t be the rule, be the exception,

A good way to start is to stand.

 

Kris Kringle nailed it.

Thanks for listening.

Sorry to ramble.

Sometimes you just have to let things write themselves. 😉

I Know We’re All Excited Cuz We’re Reunited (Hey, Hey)

Every couple of years, or sooner, my family holds a week-long reunion. My oldest brother, who lives in Mississippi, comes out to spend some time with his 6 younger siblings (of which I am the youngest) and we all make a big deal of it out here in California. He’s a cheery guy, can drink like a fish, and he knows a million jokes; you’d like him. He’s also pretty competitive when it comes to party games, and I’m pretty sure we’ve named the horseshoe tournament, the washers tournament, the cornhole tournament, and the fire pit after him. His name is Robert, for the record.

So when he comes out, it’s on. This weekend, it’s on.

I’m told he’s arriving on Friday, so the party begins tomorrow night. I’ll arrive on Sunday and be there until the following Saturday. This year we’re squeezing a wedding in, but more on that later.

The first reunion was in 1999 and I think all told we’ve had 11 or 12 of them since then. One year it was on a boat, down in Mexico, but I missed that one. Several years it was in Anderson or Cottonwood, where my second oldest brother owned property at the time. You’d like him, as well. His subtle wit is second to none and his heart is as big as a house. He has a cool red car, too.

Really, you’d like all the siblings. They’re damn amazing. Even if you don’t like me, you’d love them. Come sit by the fire this week, I’ll prove it.

This year we start in Hollister. My sister, the middle one, puts a fire pit in her front yard and we all pull up one by one, much to her suburban neighbors’ chagrin. They know what’s coming. Laughter until 2 or 3 in the morning, the sound of washers bouncing off game boards until midnight. A thousand empty Coors Light cans.

It’s not all bad; sometimes the neighbors will join us.

I say it starts in Hollister because, this year, we’re going to my brother’s new place near Lake Don Pedro a few days after. This is the youngest brother besides me. He used to beat me up when we were kids, a lot. You’d really like him. It’s his first house and I can’t wait to see it.

But we’ll only be there for a couple of days because, on Friday, we have a wedding in some place called “Oakley.” I told you I’d get back to that. My cousin, the son of our mother’s brother, is getting married at the end of the week. I’m his best man. Well, he’s better than me but I get to stand next to him while he makes his vows. You get the point.

Wait, do I have to make a speech?

::palms sweat::

Regardless, it has been 17 years since that first big reunion. Although the location seems to change, the turnout fluctuates, and – sometimes – we get into fist fights (I’ll explain that one another time), the one thing that never changes is this:

We always have the time of our lives, and can never wait to do it again.

I’m writing this while I’m doing laundry, ironing, and packing bags. In fact, I’m doing this instead of doing laundry, ironing, or packing bags, but I’ll get back to that in a minute. I had something to say. It’s reunion time again. I can’t wait to start. I’m going to get back to work, but in the meantime I’ll leave you with this:

reunion 99

That was 1999. The first reunion. It feels like yesterday and looks like a million years ago …

See you on Sunday, family of mine. ❤️

 

48 Revolutions

About a week ago I turned 48 years old, for the very first time. The country of my origin, the United States of America, turned 48 for exactly the 5th time less than a week later. When that thought occurred to me – in a public place, waiting to pay for beer and coffee – I smiled suddenly in the way that makes people around me nervous. I am passionate about sublimity and there’s something sublime about my journey coinciding so elegantly with the journey of a nation. How often are we in such perfect division with our origins?

So when I got home I left the beer and coffee in the car and did some research. I love to research as much as I love to write. Especially when a bat gets stuck in the belfry and can’t get out. I am driven by crazy obsession. Here’s what I learned:

The last time America turned 48, in 1968, the United States was embroiled in the conflict in Vietnam. The nation was entrenched in a culture war at home. It was a violent year for the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were shot dead that year, the latter mere weeks before I was born. Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for president, and Richard Nixon became president instead. Frank Borman, James Lovell and William Anders circled the moon, becoming the first human beings ever to leave Earth orbit. The Packers won the second Super Bowl. NBC cut off the end of a Raider game to show Heidi. Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura shared TV’s first interracial kiss.

That was a really big deal at the time.

48 years before that, 48 years before I was born, Babe Ruth was traded to the Yankees. Women got the right to vote. Warren Harding became president. Alcohol was illegal. The National Football League was formed. The United States Postal Service outlawed sending children via mail. Really, that was a thing. The Roaring Twenties had just begun, and it was fun to be an American. Jazz thrived.

In 1872, 48 years earlier, Susan B. Anthony cast her vote and was arrested for it. 776 buildings were destroyed in the Great Boston Fire. America was reconstructing itself in the wake of a bloody civil war. Yellowstone became the world’s first National Park. A woman ran for president for the first time, 48 years before she could vote. Everyone rushed to Wyoming and Colorado for a faux diamond rush. Brigham Young was arrested for bigamy.

He had 25 wives.

The first time America turned 48, in 1824, John Quincy Adams was elected president by the Congress, despite Andrew Jackson winning the popular vote. This very young United States was still struggling with frontiers, battling both a proud native populace and the continuing intervention of European powers. The Monroe Doctrine gave voice to manifest destiny only one year before, cementing the idea of American exceptionalism. That idea gave birth to the American superiority complex that shaped not only domestic policy throughout the 19th Century, but international policies today.

The next time America turns 48 will be the year 2064. I’ll be 96. By some accounts we’ll be the 2nd smartest species on the planet by then, outgrown by our own creations. We’ll have microscopic computers in our bloodstream, keeping our vitals vital. Everything we want or need will be manufactured for free at home using nanotechnology. Borders will disappear, scarcity will vanish, poverty will be a footnote in history, and money will be a thing of the past. By some accounts.

By other accounts we’ll be living underground, chased there by our own failing biosphere or by bombs we couldn’t help but drop. Or we’ll be extinguished by those robots we create. Or maybe nothing at all will change. Chelsea’s kid Aidan will be 48 in 2064. Maybe he’ll be the Clinton to spread manifest destiny to the stars.

I think I’ll open a warm beer from the car and contemplate that thought for a while.

Cheers, America. Happy revolutions to you.

 

Walls

I’ve been watching with interest the developments this week in Europe and comparing them to the populism sweeping through the United States this election season. The referendum for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is not surprising, any more than it is surprising (anymore) that Donald Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for the President of the United States. We live in an age of fear.

In the last 20 years, and even longer, the world has become smaller. Radio and television did enormous work throughout the 20th century to bring together the disparate global populace, but that is nothing compared to what computers, and specifically the internet, have done in the last two decades. We are all connected at the speed of thought now.

In a connectivity so broad, we have choices. One, we can learn and adapt, embracing the beautiful diversity that has sprung from the planet and evolved – physically and culturally – in such a variety of manner. Or, two, we can look deeply into what we see and shudder, turning away from sights so different and thinking so foreign. As we become interchangeable we can embrace change or we can build walls.

We are building walls. In Europe and in America, we are building walls.

It’s a natural thing to do. Nationalism itself was a logical progression. As city-states gave way to nation-states in the evolution of mankind it was sensible to form bigger pockets of pride, to run in ever larger packs. But just as cities combined into states and states combined into nations, nations will combine as well. The walls will come tumbling down.

But because we are so early into this transition we are still building walls. We are finding disparity in our union. With every new coalition comes new enmity. Fear is winning. Demagoguery is igniting the discontented. Isolation is gaining favor in the waning age of nationalism.

This populist backlash was anticipated. The people, once again, have been betrayed and they are fighting back with the only resource they have … the vote. Without a greater understanding this backlash takes the form of regime change and a rejection of ideals, however lofty. The people will run to safe ground, the ground that they knew, and there are propagandists and opportunists ready to lead that charge. We were taught to cherish our homelands, our faiths, and our likenesses, and those things become our shelters.

England rose up this week, and in an instant they made a statement that the world has heard. We are not ready. We are afraid. In America, the same popular statement is being read … give us the same thing we’ve had for a generation or give us somebody who will shut out the world and put America first. Don’t give us change. Don’t water us down.

But the world has already changed. We are already assimilated. We are one people now, networked at light speed. The leaders are still finding ways to manipulate our uncertainty, to play on our fears, but in the end the change will come. Evolution is a certainty. So many walls have already fallen. The new walls we build are made from brick but this is the electronic age. Isolation is impossible.

The vote in England was a victory for nationalism, for isolation, and for fear. It was a response to a vision of unification that turned into a union of greed. My hope is that this referendum does not become a rallying cry for division, but a chance for all of us to unite with a new message. We want to be together. We want to embrace change. To overcome fear. We are ready for the new world. We are ready to tear down walls. But we are not doing it to line the pockets of the leadership or to grease the wheels of commerce. We are doing it for us, for mankind.

Try again, guys. Set your greed aside and try again. This time, get it right.