Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry, you make it double
Don’t worry…be happy!

~Bobby McFerrin

I’m not a worrier. Typically. I do have occasion to worry about my bank account, or my family, at times, but on the whole I don’t worry. I also have occasion to worry about the larger things: climate change, racism, gun control, the Red Sox, but I’m aware that there’s only so much I can do about these issues.

I know that other people worry about ‘the small stuff,’ and that’s fine, I suppose. I just wonder if they see little point to it as I do. For example, some people worry about traffic. Now, I grouse about traffic; it annoys me, particularly when there’s simply very little visible reason for such. However, I don’t worry about it. Often, particularly when I’m alone in the car, I can simply turn the radio up or enjoy the silence. I don’t worry about the cleanliness of the house, or the length of the lawn. I don’t think about the price of gasoline until I go to fill up and then I simply pay what’s listed and go on about my life.

Worry is an added detractor the pursuit of happiness. It doesn’t help anything to worry, particularly about things that are beyond the control of the average individual — which actually encompasses quite a large swath of global issues. I’m sure a wise person once said Aside: because I’m certain that this fun little axion didn’t just originate in my head. “Take care of you, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Regardless, I’m going to go about my day, my year, my life, doing my best to adhere to this bit of prophetic wisdom. I’ll be taking care of myself. You should take care of you as well…but I’m not going to worry about it if you don’t!

See you in the funny papers!

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Three Favorite Shows and a Friday Five

Television. It is ubiquitous in our society. I must admit that I’m drawn in from time to time by a variety of different shows, but lately I’ve backed away from watching television. It doesn’t hold the same interest for me and I find myself less and less engaged. I also find that a good book will do just as nicely and it even helps me fall asleep more quickly. Still, we all have our favorites, particularly those we can watch again and again.

  1. M*A*S*H – The good old 4077. I remember seeing the helicopter fly across the screen to the opening strains of “Suicide is Painless” as I went off to bed. M*A*S*H was after my bed time when I was little, but even now I can sit down and watch an episode and be completely engaged. It was a delightful set of characters whose shenanigans were always fun to watch, but the show’s more poignant moments were reminders that it was a war zone and that people’s lives were at stake. It was a great balance of sitcom and drama.
  2. Gilmore Girls – You wouldn’t necessarily think that I’d be drawn in by a small town mother/daughter/daughter drama, but the writing was so fast-paced and intelligent that I was hooked from episode 1. It was one of those shows that you hated to see end and you wanted certain things for certain characters. Even when things didn’t go the way you envisioned them, you still sort of felt okay about things and were just happy to be invited to the party.
  3. Fawlty Towers – John Cleese is a god, but without the help of Sybil, Polly, and Manuel, this show would never have made it. Just an angry Basil doesn’t get it, but the exasperating reasons for his anguish are what truly makes this small ensemble click. If you’ve not seen Fawlty Towers, go with all haste and enjoy the few episodes that are available. And, if you’re not laughing within moments…maybe we shouldn’t be friends.

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Back in the day, when I was writing on this blog consistently, there was a little thing I used to do called the Friday Five. Five questions on a theme that provided the substance on a Friday. Today’s Friday Five is about communication:

1. What makes it easy to talk to someone? When they have something engaging to say, or share an interest with you. As an asocial introvert, I can most days without engaging in substantive conversation with anyone. However, the short answer to this is that nothing makes it easy to talk to someone.
2. What percent of the day do you spend talking? Per the first question, I’d say less than 15% unless I need to be on the phone for something. I’m a relatively quiet person and I don’t typically engage in small talk.
3. Who, in your opinion communicates better: men or women? It’s not really a matter of better. It’s a matter of difference. Men communicate in small bits of information, concise, and without elaboration. Women, on the other hand, can serenade each other with a host of information that lightly touches the actual topic of conversation. Neither one is necessarily better than the other, nor are these definitive; there are exceptions to every rule.
4. What topics do you avoid when talking to a stranger? There are no topics that are anathema to me. I’ll talk politics, money, family, sex…doesn’t matter. However, if I’m not interested in the stranger’s communicative engagement, I’m liable to appear standoffish or rude. This might not be an all-together inaccurate assessment, but then I don’t care much for conversation.
5. Do you like to eavesdrop on other people’s conversations? By virtue of not being a talker, I do find myself on the eavesdropping end of things quite often. It’s not intentional. I simply am not engaged in a conversation and am near enough to hear yours. More often than not, I’m not interested in that conversation either, but listening beats talking.

See you in the funny papers!

My Dinner with…

You may have noticed an increase in the bloggery on this blog. I’ve toyed with the notion of shutting it down completely, but then I go through moments where I feel like I want to write. Currently, I’m exploring a year’s worth of writing prompts from Rustico.com. It popped up in an email. I have no idea why or where it came from, but a year’s worth of prompts is nothing to sneeze at. Still, don’t expect, suddenly, a year’s worth of blogging either. I’m old and crotchety and I’ll do what I want.

Anyway, one of the prompts was if you could have dinner with any living person, who would it be? I’m sure this question has been done to death. There may even be an answer on this very blog, but I feel like there are so many great possibilities, it’s hard to narrow it down to just one.

Honestly, at this very moment, my answer has to be Henry Louis Aaron, probably better known to you as Hank. This one seems easy right now. He’s getting on in years (He’ll be 82 next month) and I’d love to sit with him and just talk about anything. I’d love to hear his stories about baseball from his early year with the Indianapolis Clowns, through Boston, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, and relive 715 with him. I want to talk to him about his civil rights activism, where we are now and how far we’ve come and where we need to go. I’d be interested in hearing about what he thinks his legacy is as a ballplayer and as a human. I’d be interested in hearing his thoughts on Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. I’d love to know what he thinks of President Barack Obama also breaking a different kind of color barrier. I’d also like to invite his friends to sit down and have a few drinks and hear what they have to say about Hank Aaron.

Honorable mentions for alternate dinners: George Lucas, Queen Elizabeth II, Sarah Vowell

See you in the funny papers!

I Hope You Dance

My first boy/girl dance was in the 7th grade. At least, it was the first boy/girl dance I remember attending. It was in the spring, but it was practically after school let out, so it’s not as though it was this grand affair with tuxes and limos. We just slapped on a tie and went back to the gym where we had waited for the bus not more than a couple of hours before.

My self-esteem in the 7th grade, on a scale of 1 to Awesome, hovered somewhere near three. This didn’t stop me from being enamored with girls. I had a crush on a lot of girls. Silent crushes, of course, because of the aforementioned self-esteem. But, in my head, they were dream states. Y’know that scene in ‘Wayne’s World’ where Garth hears Dreamweaver? Yeah…that was me. Still, in the 7th grade, I was halfway to manhood Aside: *snort* and this was my opportunity to ask out my current crush. Her name was Myrna* and she was tall (which for a seventh grader really wasn’t that tall) and brunette and I thought she hung the moon even though I didn’t know squat about her other than her name and where she went to school, and this only because she sat behind me in math.

I went through the effort of calling her to ask her to the dance. Back in my day, we had to look this number up in a large book and go to the kitchen where the phone was attached to a line in the wall and talk to our desired party in front of any and every one who wandered by, including parents or younger siblings. My self-esteem level was boosted to 4 just to make this phone call. Yet, by most accounts, it could be said that this phone call was a harbinger of things to come. After I asked Myrna to the dance, she stated that she was going to be attending the dance with several of her friends and that she would see me there. In my 7th grade consciousness, this meant that we would meet at the dance, glide across the gym floor for an hour, and then, possibly, a kiss. On her end, I’m guessing that she was pretty clearly stating that most, if not all, of this was never going to happen. She was simply being polite. Looking back, this should’ve been much clearer to me, but when your vision is clouded with Dreamweaver sparkles it’s hard to notice these things.

So, I got spiffed up and headed for the dance. Dance is a loose term for this sort of event. A large gym with a stage at one end that had the lights out and a few tables here and there. I don’t even remember there being refreshments. Just loud music and moderately dim lighting since there were unshaded windows near the ceiling. I should also mention that I don’t actually dance. I mean, I can shuffle back and forth. I’m aware of the notion of rhythm. But, in no uncertain terms could any movement I’ve ever done be misconstrued as “dancing.” My goal was simply to get to Myrna, hold tight at 8 and 4, and sway back and forth until the chaperones made us leave the gym. But, she had other plans.

She arrived with her friends, and they stood in a gaggle, talking. For a 4 on the ‘EsteeMeter’ I didn’t have many options for breaking into the group. At some point, I must have gained an extra ½ point or so and I asked her to dance. And my world fell apart.

‘No.’

No? NO!? Okay…um, yeah, alright…I’ll, um, I’m just…ugh! And as I walked slowly away the tears rolled out. Not heaving sobs or anything, because y’know, halfway to manhood and all…but hot burning shame droplets that my friends could see. Well, they would’ve seen if they’d been there, but my friends didn’t dance. They were smart enough to realize back in the seventh grade that dances were a waste of valuable effort and the return on investment was simply not worth the risk. To make all this worse, there was nowhere for me to go. It wasn’t long before the dance would end. I couldn’t drive away because it was the 7th grade for cryin’ out loud. I could’ve walked home, but in my emotional state that didn’t occur to me, plus my parents were supposed to pick me up.

There was one friend, Albert**, who was a mutual friend of both of us.  I had spent several minutes sitting at one of the lonely, undecorated tables in a middle school gym, listening to Richard Marx sing about love, when he came over. He told me that Myrna had said I should get up and dance. I fumed, and I was angry at Albert, at Myrna, at Richard Marx, at whatever fool had dreamed up dancing in the first place. What right did she have to dictate to me how I should react to being shot down at my first dance? Why the hell did she send an emissary on a peace mission that was bound to fail among 7th grade egos? Whatever possessed me to want to go to a dance in the first place? I waited it out. I sat there sulking, stealthily wiping away tears, until the music ended and the bright halogen lights came on. I walked out into the fading early evening sunlight and slumped into the backseat of my parents’ car.

No, I didn’t want to talk about it. No, I did not have a good time. I was fine. I just wanted to go home.

*Not her real name

**Not his real name

Snow Days, Weekends, and other lost joys

It will come as no surprise to those of you with children, adults, and others who have reached a certain level of engagement with the modern world that some moments in life that once held an inestimable joy no longer measure up and have become what some might consider a burden. The joy of snuggling deep into the covers on a Saturday or Sunday morning; the excitement of anticipation as the snow piles up the evening before a school day; allowing yourself 4 more minutes in the shower just because it’s warm; all of these things are gone for me.

We’ve had a good share of snow this winter. I write this as I’m guiltily indulging in my resting half of the morning which would ordinarily have seen me at work if not for the foot of snow on the ground and the bitterly cold chill that defiantly spites the sun which has made an unexpected appearance. “Resting half,” you say? What is this? Well, my wife, C, and I engage in what can only be seen as tag team parenting on mornings where we don’t have to be somewhere in order to have some free time to ourselves and not be arrested for killing our children. Also, our children do not understand the concept of sleeping in. My son was up at 5:48 this morning after repeatedly waking up last night between the hours of 8 and 12 to ask for milk, snuggles, and a variety of other bedtime stalling activities. It is no wonder that some animals eat their own young. If I thought mine were bacon-flavored, I’d be tempted myself. Anyway, some might see this as lazy parenting, allowing one spouse to bear the brunt of the household chaos while the other luxuriates in relative freedom. I call it self-preservation as I’ve spent the better part of the last half hour listening to pounding footsteps, screaming, crying, and muffled children’s television…and that’s probably just from my wife. And, I did say I was guiltily indulging…it’s not necessarily fun to lounge around in my pjs listening to my wife try to maintain some sense of order in the house, but in fairness, I had nearly three hours of the same experience before she took over.

However, all of this allows me to harken back to my own childhood when I adored the concept of a snow day. A day free from pattern, structure, and expectation. It was a time when I could engage the world on my own terms without the restrictions of a typical day. Now, however, a snow day merely means that I’m forced into a role of entertainer for my children unless I’m being called upon to perform the manual labor of snow removal, something I never gave a thought to when I was younger. Snow should be for playing and wonder, not for toil and pain. And yet, here we are.

Since we are here, may I also comment on the fact that my time is no longer my own. Even the time I’m taking to write this is basically stolen from my wife. With each keystroke, I struggle with whether to continue or to go and save her from the howling of pent up monkeys who have been unleashed on the home because of inclement weather. This not only extends to now, but even the most mundane activities. This is the second snow day in a row, and I’ve lost count of when I showered last. I’m pretty sure it was Wednesday morning, but one never knows. When I was single, and even when I was newly married, it was not unlike me to spend longer in the shower on a cold day because I knew getting out would not only be an assault on the skin, it would be the start of the structure of the day. As long as I remained enveloped in the soft warmth of the spray, the mental healing of the steam, I was safe. Now, I hurry through a shower regardless of the temperature to comfort my son who dare not be less than an arm’s length away from either parent at any given moment, or to make sure that my daughter has adequate screen time with a show she’s probably seen more times than I care to count.

So, life moves on, but the simple joys have disappeared. The elation of tugging a blanket closer around my head; the enjoyment of sledding down a hill; the heat of staring into the flow of the shower; all are gone. And, now that my children have arrived in our room to tell me all of the obvious things of the last half hour, I leave you to your own devices.

See you in the funny papers!

40 is the new…40.

There is a stigma to turning 40. Regardless of what age you are, you have an opinion on the turning of 40. Younger people look at it as the “over-the-hill” moment. Older people generally go into detail about how much worse their current age is, and why 40 was not really that big of a deal. Tomorrow I turn 40, and I’ll be honest, I don’t really have an opinion. For me, there’s no real wow factor and I don’t dread it, so 40 seems to be a fairly big non-event. It almost makes me wonder why 40 is so revered or feared. At what point did 40 become the age of conflict and confusion?

Still, having been lucky enough to have achieved this age, I feel compelled somewhat to offer my own two cents on this latest spin around the sun. Personally, I think 40 has brought a sort of zen to my life. I’m fully aware of my own strengths and my own failings and I am cognizant of the fact that I’m not aware of what other people are experiencing in their daily lives. I cherish experiences more than materials. I gather memories more than collect items. I use my old eyes to try and see new things.

Sure, there’s a little more gray in the beard (makes me look more distinguished, in my opinion), and a few wrinkles have begun etching their existence on my face. But, for reaching middle-age (life expectancy in this country for males is 77.11 years), I feel pretty good. So, all in all, 40 doesn’t look so bad. I can only hope that the next 40 are just as varied as these have been.

See you in the funny papers!

The Longest Mile

This weekend was the culmination of several months of preparation for an event. I had no idea that I even wanted to do this, and even when it was a reality that I would be doing it, I’m still not sure I was entirely aware of what I was getting into. I ran a marathon. The Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, to be exact. Somewhere along the line, I had convinced myself that I needed to put my body, and mind (which I will explain later), through this ordeal before I turned 40. As it happens, I turn 40 next month, so that became a more urgent timeframe.

Sometime in May of this year, I uttered the words aloud in front of my family: “I want to run a marathon.” To my surprise, they were completely supportive. Not that they’ve ever been anything but supportive, but I suppose I wanted someone to say, “Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea” or “Maybe you should wait until the kids get older” or even “Are you sure?” Because, in my head, these are all the thoughts I had placed before myself. However, my family, first my sister and her husband, then my wife, then my parents and godmother, then my in-laws…all of them rallied to the cause becoming engaged in the idea. I really felt like my wife would talk me out of this nonsense, because it is a significant time investment. And, with two children under the age of five, she was the first I expected to balk at what some might consider a mid-life crisis. On the contrary, she became a cheerleader extraordinaire. She challenged me to run when I needed to and could not find the strength and/or energy, and was a wellspring of support from day one. I simply could not have done it without her. My sister and brother-in-law, training for their own milestone half-marathon, were inspirational with Facebook posts about their own training. My parents and godmother were there to help with the kids when I needed to get out for a run but I also needed to be a parent. My father-in-law and mother-in-law also assisted with childcare but introduced me to a running group to help push me through the long and worst parts of the training. To all of them, and to many others, I am indebted because there is no “i” in marathon. It’s very cliche, I know, but there would have been no way I could have attempted this without their complete support.

So, I won’t bother you with the aspects of training, unless you really want to hear about bleeding nipples (not pleasant) and thigh chafing (also, not pleasant) and eating strange nutrition from foil pouches and drinking gallons of water. All of these things occurred, but that’s not the sexy part of marathoning. Actually, I’m not entirely sure there is a sexy part, but I will tell you about a couple of events during training that I think you’ll find interesting. First, since I’m now done with the event, let me tell you how I got hit by a car. Don’t panic! Clearly, I’m fine, otherwise you’d have heard about it before now. And, it was just a glancing blow off my left shin which probably scared the driver more than it did me. But there it is. I was running one evening as I had made a habit of doing; earphones in, timer on, headed along my usual route. I was on the sidewalk, but there are several cross streets which cars frequently come from. Ordinarily, I try to run behind cars mostly so I don’t block traffic or become a nuisance, but this once, I felt like I had space and the driver didn’t wait for me to clear the vehicle before taking off. I dodged just as my leg rubbed the bumper and my hand came down on the hood. The adrenaline didn’t allow me to stop; I just kept running, making the international symbol for “I’m okay” and I didn’t even think about how close that came to ending my marathon training until later that night. Secondly, I had never experienced what you might call a “runner’s high.” I’m not sure such a thing exists. However, there were moments of calm that came over me while running where I realized I wasn’t thinking about running anymore, my body was just doing it and that freed my mine to worry about other mundane things. It was sort of a zen experience, but you have to run a long way to get there.

Now then, on to the race. My wife and I drove up to Indy on Friday night, watching the rain fall heavily at times as the temperature dropped. It was on pace (no pun intended) to be the coldest night and following day of the season. Not my favorite weather to be out in, much less run in, but one does not get to choose the conditions. We picked up my packet and got to the hotel. I was so tired at this point, I merely sank into the bed and fell quickly to sleep. I was really hoping that it would somehow warm up overnight, but in some nearby locations, it snowed. I slept well, until 4 a.m., when I awoke from a dream that I had finished the marathon. Certainly this was a good omen, but at 4 a.m. it would’ve been nice to have simply stayed asleep. I have now reached the age when waking up at that hour portends at least 30 minutes of wakefulness wherein you ponder life’s mysteries. I got a drink of water and stood quietly at the window, gazing at the blazing lights of the parking garage across the alley. Fortunately, that was the extent of my musing and I fell back to sleep.

Race day! I awoke, attempting to dress very quietly and allow my wife some needed child-free sleep. I dressed with everything I had brought to put on hoping against hope that I would be able to shed some layers later, but the truth is there weren’t a lot of layers to shed. I went down to the lobby, got directions to the starting line (because, really, you’d think I’d know this sort of thing ahead of time, but no, I’m very fly by the seat of my shorts), and headed out the door. A brilliant gust of cold wind shattered my illusions and I went back inside the lobby to sit down and rethink my life, at least the next few hours of it. I summoned the willpower to walk out into the cold, knowing that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as the long runs in the heat and humidity of mid-July. My jaws clenched, I shuddered to the starting area. Thousands of people huddled into the street as with all races, but some sharing a little more personal space than usual because the body heat was very comforting. All of the usual hoopla surrounded the start of the race; blaring music, a national anthem, words from sponsors, etc., most of which no one is listening to, they’re simply shuffling about attempting to stay warm or are commemorating the moment with their friends and the ubiquitous selfie.

It is dark, it is cold, and there is no one around you that you know. It’s like the opening of a horror movie, except that you’ve paid to be here. You chose this moment and told yourself that this is how you wanted to spend the precious free time that you have available. And, then it starts, and you move forward, and stop. Then move forward again, and stop. It’s almost as if there’s a traffic signal at the beginning of the race allowing just a few runners to leave at a time. As I run slowly, I am usually relegated to the area near the back of the pack which is fine, but it’s nearly nine minutes before I reach the starting line after the gun goes off. However, before reaching the start line, I shuffle awkwardly amid hundreds of strangers across what I affectionately term “The Rapture Field.” On a cold day, runners bundle up and then doff whatever clothing they don’t need as the race begins. Fortunately, the race organizers graciously collect this cast off clothing and donate it to charity, but not before it has been trampled where it lies on the cold ground. I must have stepped around and over a dozen different piles of clothing that looked as if their owners had simply been whisked up to the heavens as the race began. As the crowd thinned out across the start line and the icy gale hit me again, I was sort of wishing I had been raptured myself.

The race moves turn by turn through the city out to the eastern edge before heading north. This all happens before the sun lifts its head above the low-rise buildings. Heading north, we felt the wind bearing down upon our faces causing tears and shivering, but we trundled on, threading past slower runners and walkers. I was pleased to maintain my pace early on, not worrying about who was passing me or what my pace might seem to others. I knew what I needed to do to finish which was my only goal. Finally the sun rose to a respectable height and begin to burn away the chill of the morning. This is only the seventh mile and now a great portion of the crowd splits away to finish the half marathon. At this point, I feel the reality set in, because never before have I not split away. This is one of my first new experiences. As I mentioned, my ultra-supportive wife was there driving from place to place to cheer me on with signs that inspired both with love and laughter. From “Your daughter loves you and your son looks up to you” to “You can day drink after this,” she was a welcome sight along the way. Somewhere along mile 15, there is a stretch which is very beautiful, but also very desolate and bereft of a marathon fan base. Some kind soul was lovely enough to place signs along the greenway to provide inspiration, but the highlight of this area was when a rooster, apropos of nothing, just appeared out of the woods. A beautiful fat black rooster with a bright red comb that crowed after I had passed him. If nothing else, you get to experience the surreal during a marathon.

During training, I’d never run farther than 20 miles, and when I reached that point, my brain suggested to my body that this was the limit. I didn’t need to run anymore. My legs were mostly in agreement, but my heart knew there were 10 kilometers left and common sense prevailed because I couldn’t just stop there and wait for someone to take me home. This is where the mental fortitude comes in. If you allow yourself to quit, you will. I didn’t quit, but I knew I’d have to adjust my pace somewhat to make it the rest of the way. I slowed down, walking more than I had been, eating the last of the nutrition that I had brought with me. This final stretch is a 3-mile jaunt through the heart of downtown, the concrete jungle. By this point, you’ve been running for four and a half hours and the sun is in your face. You can feel the exhaustion from your own body as well as from the auras of the runners around you. There’s not reserves of energy to summon, you are simply being dragged along by the mere thought that there is a finish line out there somewhere and you will eventually find it. This is the “lost in the desert” moment. Your body is in the throes of its most challenging exertion to date and you simply want it to end. Your “running” has now become just stumble-walking interspersed with half-hearted attempts at a slow jog. You are alone again. Warmer, but still alone. I finally reached the last mile marker, and even though my brain could do the math and tell my legs it was only another 1000 feet, they would not be swayed. This is the point where the crowd saves you. Those final 1000 feet you are pulled along by the crowd. There is no other way to cross that divide.

As I crossed the timing mat, I grabbed everything they handed me: Finisher’s medal, banana, cookie, chocolate milk, hat, just taking everything, looking for an exit to the chute to celebrate with my wife. Stop for pictures, another final gust of icy air, and a brief sense of achievement mostly clouded by sheer pain in my knee and calves. I doubt if I’ll do another one, because one is plenty, honestly. But, I can now say that I’m a marathoner and I’m proud of that.

See you in the funny papers!