Thoughts From the Porch: I listened to an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air last week. It was with Brian May; one of the founding members of the band, Queen. I was on my way to a meeting, so I only heard a brief segment, but I’ve thought about it all weekend.
I didn’t know that following Freddie Mercury’s death and the band dissolved, Mr. May went back to university and earned his PhD in astrophysics. His thesis, put as simply as possible, was about the velocity of star dust. He went on to explain some of his thesis, but I was driving and somewhat distracted. I didn’t catch all the interview. That is, until right before I shut off the engine…
I was getting out of my truck when I heard him say, “we’re all composed of stardust from the beginning of the universe”. He went on to say that when Joni Mitchell sang, “We are stardust. We are golden…” she hit the nail right on the head. Not only do I have a “Woodstock” ‘brain worm’, I’ve thought about our ‘stardust DNA’ all weekend.
I’m in absolute awe and amazement – we’re made with the very dust present at the beginning of the universe. The stars formed our DNA!
I grew up in an extremely fundamentalist Christian home. The Bible was taken quite literally. If it says God created the Earth in seven days, then by God, he did. Science was incompatible with religion. To many it still is. I’m not going to enter in to a debate over science versus biblical literalism. I’ll leave that to the dogmatist on both sides. Apparently, they know God, or lack thereof, much better than I do…
I believe I’m connected to time, space, and people – all of creation – through this ‘star DNA’. When I’m in tune with that connection, I’m able to love better and a be a better human being. I’m a better steward of the gifts God has given me. I’m able to bring light into the darkness around me. Maybe that’s why I was created with stardust…
It’s easy to forget how marvelous and ‘wonderfully created’ I am. I get caught up in the minutiae of the day, rushing about the business of living. Suddenly, I hear or see something that stops me in my tracks, reminding me of the miracles around me.
It’s another Monday morning here in North Texas. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, I was up well before sunrise. That may not be the case when we fall back an hour next weekend. I love the sounds of the world awakening around me. They are more pronounced on Mondays. The quiet of weekends replaced by the stirrings of a busy world slowly going about its business.
I’m not a big television watcher. Occasionally it’s nice to curl up in bed, relax with my wife, and watch old TV shows on the cable. Sunday nights we watch reruns of the old Johnny Cash show. It was pretty edgy for the time, and in a way, for the place it was recorded as well.
The show originally ran from June 7, 1969 to March 31, 1971 on ABC, and was recorded at the Ryman Auditorium. Guests included rock, pop, and folk artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell and The Monkees, a bit surprising coming from the home of country music, the Grand Old Opry. I guess only Johnny Cash could have pulled off such a guest list there.
The “Man in Black” was the consummate storyteller. He related the changing world of Vietnam Era America in a way that few could. I appreciate it even more now that I’m older. His stories take on new meaning.
Storytelling, especially folk tales, seems on the brink of becoming a lost art. Looking back just isn’t as popular as running forward. Sometimes it’s nice to take a breather. Hearing those old stories is a reminder that “no matter how much things change, the more they remain the same”. My kids may not relate to his tales of towns left behind because of a new interstate highway being built, but if you change the words they still apply. Today it’s the town left behind by jobs being outsourced overseas and young people stranded in a sea of student debt…
When I returned to writing copy and content, I chose conversational writing and storytelling as my ‘market niche’. Not only is it important professionally, it’s important personally. Everyone has a story to tell and together we can write a better one. Helping tell, and live, a better story is what we were all created for…
Stories remind me of how connected I am: to the past, present, and future. They are a constant reminder that I’m part of something bigger than me. My story is a part of your story, and vice-versa. Together we can write a better story.
Thoughts From the Porch: A more accurate title for today’s post would be “Thoughts from the Desk”. A cold front flew through the neighborhood Sunday night, leaving a cold Arctic wind and black, rain-filled skies in its wake. It was eighty-one degrees one day and, in the forties the next. I didn’t stay on the porch very long. Needless to say, it’s much cozier here at Dad’s old roll-top. We had chili for dinner last night and our coffee intake has risen dramatically. Something about such weather makes them both taste exquisite and, so very necessary. Such is Fall in North Texas…
Margaret loves to watch the musical competition shows like The Voice, America’s Got Talent, and X Factor. I am not that crazy about them, although I come and watch when she asks me to see a good performance. I tend to be a bit snobbish about such popular shows, but if I’m honest, I’ve developed an interest as well.
I never watched them before. They tend to be too ‘pop’ for my taste. Heck, before Margaret and I married, I didn’t even own a television. I streamed PBS on my computer. I’d hear people talking about the latest ‘star’, but I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.
I’ve always had a problem with the idea of ‘instant stardom’. There are so many unbelievably talented musicians, singers, and songwriters in the world. They endure the grind of the road, playing in roadhouses and clubs almost every night. Family life, if they have any, is marked with long separations. They pay their dues, hoping for the big break that may never come. Yet, they continue despite the rigors of life as a touring musician.
They do it because they are musicians. They can’t do anything else. I get it. I write because that’s what writers do. I love writing (whether I’m good at it or not…). Musicians perform because they love what they do. I’m grateful for all the indie labels and the Internet for exposing me to so much more of the great talent out there.
I always wondered what attracted people to these programs. Then I watched a few of them and their appeal became clear. They tell a story, and everyone loves a good story.
They all tell stories about the various contestants. Stories that draw the audience in and develop an emotional bond between strangers. The contestant often had some major difficulty to overcome prior to coming on the show. It may be the loss of a family member, recovering from a debilitating illness, of huge obstacles that stood in the way. Each has had to move beyond some trauma and overcome their fears to become the next big star. America votes for who they want to win. Votes are not always based on sheer talent. People love the ‘rags to riches’ story. There’s always someone to identify with. That’s what gets the votes and the ratings…
I see it in my personal and professional life. It’s all about living a better story. I hope to assist others in living, and telling, a better story as well. As the old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”
Once I understood the story, and not just the talent, I saw why these programs have such a following. We love heroes. Everyone wants to be a hero. We love people who overcome terrible odds and win the prize. Great literature, no matter what genre, survives because of heroes. The Voice has been on for fifteen seasons, not because of the talent they showcase, but the heroes they produce.
I want to be a hero today, but being a hero requires work. I used to look on these programs with disdain because they seemed too easy – rewards without the work – but it took a lot of practice and courage just to reach the stage. So, I had to ask myself:
How many times have I expected to be on the proverbial ‘stage’ without putting in the work to get there?
How many times has my fear of rejection, like all the auditions or in my case, submissions, kept me from realizing my dreams?
How often have I lacked the courage to take the next step?
How often have I sought the ‘easy way out’ or settled for less than the best?
If I were absolutely certain it was my last day on Earthy, would I e happy with how I spent it?
I ask myself these questions daily, not because I want to be the next big star, but because I want to be who I was created to be and have life “in abundance”. One of my favorite authors, Henry David Thoreau said,
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
I get it today. Fear can keep me from following my passion. Today, I pray for the courage to take the next step, to be the man I was created to be, and follow it up with action: to step out on the stage despite my fears, perform my best, and grab onto the things that are truly important to me. I hope you do as well…
Thoughts from the Porch: The leaves are starting to cover more of the yard more quickly than they did a couple of weeks ago. The blades of grass, which would shoot toward the sky after every rain last month have slowed to a crawl in their growth. Mowers scurrying along the freeway right-of-way signal colder weather is on the way. Despite the above-average temperatures, Fall is on its way to North Texas.
This week has been hectic (in a good way, for the most part) and the time on the porch is treasured beyond imagination. Margaret and I have been able to get out more, for which I’m grateful. I love to her out and about. The tender’s been stoked, and the brakes are off on Opal’s Farm. The wheels are turning faster now and building speed toward the ribbon-cutting ceremony ahead. The only blot on the week has been a persistent plumbing problem here at home. At least I’m able to be here to take care of it.
As I started my day with a cup of coffee, I felt intense gratitude for the day I’ve been given. I get to meet and work with some amazing people. I’ve often said I prefer the company of dogs and horses to most humans, and that seems to follow on days that I pour over my newsfeed and read about the pervasive anger and divisiveness in our society. I could go on a major rant about it all, but why?
Sometimes I feel a little like the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, in 1 Kings 19. He had seen so much of the selfish decadence of his world that he felt like he was totally alone and persecuted. Lord knows I’ve been there. Events can be overwhelming. I feel isolated, cynical, and sad. Depression clouds my view of the world. It often feels like, “What’s the use?”.
(side note: continuing feelings of “what’s the use, worthlessness, sadness and isolation are nothing to be trifled with, especially when nothing seems to help. It may be something for which relationships, gratitude, and spiritual pursuits aren’t enough. Please seek professional guidance)
Fortunately, Elijah’s story didn’t end there. Yours and mine doesn’t have to, either. God reminded him that he wasn’t alone. First, by speaking in a still, small voice so he was reminded he wasn’t spiritually alone. Second, by reminding him he wasn’t physically alone. In fact, God pointed to all the other people, 7,000 in his case, who had the same desire to make things better. That’s what God does and, continues to do for me on a regular basis.
Over the last several weeks many fantastic and selfless people have crossed my path: people who look to the common good and seek how to be of service. Opal’s Farm is the pathway God has granted me. Beginning with Ms. Opal, the farm’s namesake, I’ve met a succession of people who have blessed me in ways they’ll probably never know. God hasn’t left any of us alone. The world is filled with people who strive to make our community a better place by serving other, but I fail to take them into account. “You can’t see the forest because of all the trees…”
I write a lot about the people in my life and relationships. Probably more than you want to read, but I stress their importance, whether it’s personally, professionally, or spiritually. Mom used to tell me she could tell who I was by who my friends were. I didn’t appreciate her wisdom until I was older, but she was so right. The more I surround myself with great relationships, the better I become as a person.
My personal relationships keep my perspective positive, my business relationships sharpen my focus and service professionally, and my relationship with God expands my spiritual life. What are your relationships doing for you today? Are they a priority in your life? Are you grateful?
Thoughts From the Porch: It’s been a crazy week already and it’s only Wednesday. It’s all been ‘good’ crazy. My professional obligations have overflowed into my personal time. Combine them with whatever allergen blew in with the last cold front and I sniffle and sneeze my way through the day…
I was sitting here sorting through the various business cards and it occurred to me that I need a new Rolodex. Some of you know what I’m talking about: that circular file that holds your contacts, addresses, and phone numbers. I’m not sure many people use them anymore. Everyone else seems to organize such things online. I guess my friend Gary was right. I’m a dinosaur…
It’s not that I’m technologically illiterate, mind you. Heck, I write for a living and that includes the web and social media. It’s just that keyboards and screens feel so impersonal at times. Heck, I lost my phone one time and couldn’t call friends or family because their numbers were stored by the phone’s contact list. I can still remember my very first home number – GL (short for the Glendale exchange)1-0249 (and yes, kids, there was a time when they had letters instead of numbers). I could tell you what part of town someone was calling from by the prefix, which was helpful as caller ID was still years away. One memorized the important numbers in one’s life, wrote them in a phone and address book, or filed them on a Rolodex for future reference. Nowadays, they all go to the phone by name instead of having to dial. I was married two years before I could tell you my wife’s phone number. It was filed away by name on a contact screen. Sometimes smart phones make me feel dumb…
Don’t get me wrong. I love emerging technology and all the new toys. They make life, professionally and personally, so much easier. The world has become much smaller as a result, too. It’s nothing to be able to communicate, both audibly and visibly, with folks on the other side of the world in a microsecond. I definitely find research on the internet preferable to the long hours spent in the library or on the phone. Unfortunately, technology is often impersonal at times and that can be brutal on relationships.
As I’ve grown older I’ve come to believe that everything in life is about relationships. For all the connectedness technology enables, it inhibits real relationship. One night shortly after Margaret and I started dating, she asked me to come to ‘family night’ at her house. As we all found our seats in the living room and turned on the movie, it became apparent that no one was either talking or watching the movie. Instead, everyone’s face was buried in a phone screen. I think they were texting each other across the living room. Just so you know, we have great, loving relationships with all our kids, but after that evening I became increasingly aware of the downside of technology – stifling relationships.
I’m not a big ‘phone guy’. One of the biggest complaints a friend has about me is that I don’t answer my phone right away. I leave it in the truck when I’m meeting or working with a client. They aren’t paying me to answer my cell phone. I always return calls. I am not, and I refuse, to be tethered to my phone. Besides, I value ‘face time’, and not the iPhone kind, over phones calls, texts, and emails. One of the best pieces of advice my mentor ever gave me was to spend more time watching and listening. The experts say that much of our conversations are non-verbal. We say more with our body language and actions. Just ask my wife. She hates it when I sigh or roll my eyes and still say okay…
Something special takes place between people when they sit and share together. The closer my relationship, the more one is aware of the non-verbal cues between one another. My non-verbal cues often indicate a far deeper meaning than what I say. They often turn my “everything’s okay” into “what’s really going on?”. As a result, my relationship with others, and with myself, deepens.
The ultimate face time takes place over the dinner table. In certain cultures, a meal is the most intimate offering one can give to another. To paraphrase another friend, “I don’t get to choose who I am kind to, but I do get to choose who I have dinner with”. Many of my best memories are of meals shared and friendship enjoyed. I guess it’s no wonder that Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with people over the dinner table…
Here in a bit, I’ll head off to a Development Group that meets weekly to discuss personal and professional development, how to be of service to others, and network with other professionals. It’s something I look forward to every Wednesday. There are no cell phones or computer screens present; only good food and good folks. We spend the time together trading business cards and the weeks news. I always feel uplifted and full of energy when I leave. That rarely happens when I step away from this computer screen.
I’m okay being a dinosaur. What all the great technology doesn’t do is help me be a better human being. I need other folks to help me get there. I need relationships. Technology is a great tool, but they are not the be all and end all. So, before I get to the meeting, I think I’ll stop by the office supply store and see if they carry a Rolodex…