Cancelling ‘The Interview': Terrorism, Tough Choices and Madmen

the interview

A man holds a gun to your child’s head in one hand.

He holds a gun to your spouse’s head in the other.

“Choose,” he says. “Or I’m going to count to 10 and choose for you.”

“Please. God. No,” you beg. “I’ll do anything.”

“You’ll choose. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven…”

Maybe he’s bluffing, you think.

But it doesn’t look that way.

Maybe he feels his cause is just and maybe it even seems legit.

Maybe he feels his cause is just but he’s completely insane.

Maybe he’s just evil.

Regardless, you have a choice to make. And every option is unfair and horrible.

After a month of heavy promotion, Sony Pictures cancelled its scheduled December 25 release of The Interview—a satirical comedy starring goof-off funnymen Seth Rogan and James Franco. The premise of the film is that these two guys who work in the television news business scored an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. And the CIA recruits the two men to assassinate him.

About a month ago, hackers launched a cyber attack against Sony Pictures. Skulls appeared on Sony employees’ computer screens. Sensitive email content, including reportedly “embarrassing information,” was leaked.

The FBI has named North Korea as the primary suspect in the attack, but the country has denied it. While denying it, North Korean officials did praise the attack as a “righteous deed” while referring to The Interview as an “act of terrorism” and promised “merciless” retaliation should Sony release it.

The hackers further threatened 9/11-style terrorist attacks on movie theaters who dared to show the movie.

Upon being threatened, the three largest cinema chains in the United States decided to postpone showing the film, and Sony Pictures subsequently cancelled the movie in its entirety and currently has no (publically announced) plans to distribute it, even for home-video viewing.

The film cost $42 million to make.

The outrage from Hollywood creatives was fast and predictable.

Actor Rob Lowe wrote on Twitter: “Wow. Everyone caved. The hackers won. An utter and complete victory for them. Wow.”

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel called the decision “An un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.”

As a writer, the freedom of speech I’m awarded as an American citizen is of great value to me. I can insult the President of the United States—inarguably one of the two or three most-powerful people on Earth. Right now, if I want. And the only consequence is that other people with the same rights I have can exercise their freedom of speech to disagree with me.

It’s a freedom most of us take for granted, until things like this pop up.

Here’s the problem with cancelling this film because some disgruntled North Korea lovers are offended by the premise:

Sony Pictures has now set the precedent that if you infiltrate their security and threaten to murder innocent movie goers, they will cancel a $42 million film.

A film called Selma will be released Christmas Day about the extraordinary courage of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights marches in Selma, Ala. in 1965. Looks like a good one.

Maybe some white supremacists will be offended by the premise. Maybe they’ll threaten a Christmas Day massacre on movie goers seeing it.

Should we not show it?

We watched Middle Eastern terrorists kill thousands of people in United 93 and World Trade Center.

We watched the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in the not-very-good Pearl Harbor.

We watched Germany do horrible things to innocent people in countless World War II films.

Would we have tolerated threats from any of their sympathizers?

Does Sony’s decision invite more threats? Does this affect how courageous a writer or film producer is willing to be moving forward?

We won’t know the extent of the fallout for a while. But there will be one.

I stand with the free-speech warriors.

But, Wait 

What if there is credible information that if these movie theaters DO show this picture, that scores of innocent people will die?

What if the powers that be are absolutely convinced there will be legitimate terrorist-style attacks on movie theaters, killing untold numbers and effectively changing movie theater business and security forever?

If they know?

Can we blame them?

As an American, a writer and a quasi-creative, I am appalled that a group of fucksticks has threatened to kill innocent people and that that threat is being taken so seriously that a major movie studio is cancelling the release of a SATIRICAL COMEDY. It’s tragic.

But someone at Sony had to make a decision: Show it and risk feeling responsible for the deaths of customers? Or pull it, and be viewed a coward and someone who will bow to the whims of madmen?

I must admit that I may make that very same choice if I’m convinced lives are at stake. I’m not proud of it. But it’s the truth.

There is no black and white.

No right and wrong.

This is what it means sometimes to be a human being.

Making the impossible choice. Because life has never been, and will never be, fair.

The guns are still pointed at those you love most. You don’t have a lot of time. But you better do something.

“Six. Five. Four. Three. Two…”

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Everything Will Change

life-long-quotes

I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV or Beverly Hills, 90210 or go to boy-girl parties like the rest of my friends. One of my presents for my 10th birthday was Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure which was rated PG and I’d seen it a bunch of times, but after my mom heard some of the jokes, she took it away from me.

I didn’t think it was cool to have a conservative mom who cared enough about me to worry about things like that so sometimes I’d lie to my friends about why I couldn’t go to a party that everyone else was going to.

I was an only child. I didn’t have any older siblings to help me prepare for what was to come.

Every day growing up was a new experience.

Being friendly and nice to almost everyone got me through. But those school-aged years is when I remember feelings of inadequacy cropping up for the first time.

I wasn’t particularly good or bad at anything.

In the classroom I got low-end As and high-end Bs without trying very hard. Girls always liked me, but usually as a second or third choice. In sports, I was just about as average as it gets. I wasn’t laughably bad at anything, but I was never in jeopardy of being a scholarship athlete either.

My entire world was wrapped up in my friends at school. My athletic accomplishments. My various grade school and high school crushes.

That stuff meant EVERYTHING.

But then everything changed.

I Went to College

I was really good at the social part of college and really bad at the academic part.

One time I failed an Intro to Computing class that taught us how to use Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I failed because I never went. I took it the next semester because if I got an A or B, it would replace my F completely because of my university’s grading policy. Whew. But then I still didn’t go to the class and I failed it a second time.

But I made a lot of friends. And my time working at the student newspaper, including the year I was the editor, helped me build a diverse network.

From the guys I’d smoke pot with in a random bedroom at a house party, to football players, to the various fraternities and sororities, to my massive group of friends, to student government officials and school administrators I got to know as the newspaper’s editor. I knew everyone.

I’d achieved a place socially I’d never reached in high school despite being liked then. Almost like I was important.

I don’t mean that in an ego way. I mean that in a purposeful way.

People need purpose. To feel like they matter.

But when we feel inadequate, it’s hard to feel like we matter. It’s hard to feel like we have a purpose.

Feeling important-ish. Like I mattered during my college years?

That meant EVERYTHING.

But then everything changed.

I Got a Job and Moved Far Away

I was officially an adult.

A cub reporter at a daily newspaper on Florida’s Gulf Coast. A thousand miles away from everyone and everything I’d ever known.

All I could think about every day was trying to be the best newspaper reporter I could be so I could move up the ranks to larger newspapers.

We called the major metro papers (The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribute, The Los Angeles Times, The Miami Herald, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, etc.) “destination papers.”

All I wanted to do was work my way up to one so I could start winning Pulitzer Prizes.

That meant EVERYTHING.

But then everything changed.

No Place Like Home

About a year into our time in Florida, my girlfriend and I decided we wanted to be back home in Ohio.

There were a few newspaper options where we wanted to live, but it’s VERY hard to get a job in one particular geographic area as a journalist. I worked at it for a couple years and finally took a job as a business writer for a weekly trade publication.

It was a solid paper that practiced good journalism. More importantly, we were back in Ohio. And now my girlfriend and I were husband and wife.

That meant EVERYTHING.

But then everything changed.

The Great Losses

Because of the rapid growth of the internet and the collapse of the real estate market and subsequent Wall Street meltdown, print media began to struggle mightily to make money.

Layoffs ensued.

I ended up being one of them.

My newspaper dream was dead because it was clear in 2010 that trying to forge ahead in that industry made little sense, financially. And now I had a baby boy to provide for. I needed to reinvent myself.

But it was hard. Because the economy was totally in the tank and we don’t exactly live in the most economically robust place imaginable. I was asking companies to hire me to do a job I had never done before and expecting to be paid like a 10-year professional. It was a lot to ask.

But I finally found one to say yes.

That was awesome, and after an 18-month grind, I finally felt like everything was going to be okay.

But then we lost my wife’s father out of nowhere. Things would never be the same.

My marriage died.

We pretended for a while in front of friends and family.

But it was dead.

I cried a lot and prayed for miracles that never came.

My wife left and then I felt a new kind of inadequacy. A new kind of fear. Because if she can leave me then I’ll never be safe. Then I knew that anyone could leave me. But I had bigger problems than that.

Who will ever want to date some dumped loser with a kid?

Everything I lived for had gone away. The preservation of my family. A marriage success story from a guy who had only seen divorce from his parents and didn’t want to be like them was all I ever wanted.

That meant EVERYTHING.

But then everything changed.

But It Didn’t Change Fast

It changed slow.

It took a bunch of days of waking up and committing to staying alive and believing life could get better even though it didn’t feel better. Hundreds of days.

It took lifestyle changes.

It took interest from the opposite sex to help me overcome my self-confidence issues I was having.

It took watching my beautiful son do a great job at school to know his mom and I could still be partners on his behalf.

It took healing that can’t be forced. It can only be accepted through the natural course of time.

And now I’m here. A million miles away from giving a shit what my grade school friends think about what I’m allowed to watch on TV. From my college years when I only cared about friends, newspapers and girls. From my life in Florida where all I wanted to do was get back to Ohio and live happily ever after with my wife.

And now?

I’m many miles away from the devastation of my life falling apart a few years ago. I’ve swept up almost all the wreckage and have begun building something entirely new. I have no idea what it’s going to look like when I’m finished. And that used to be scary but now it’s not.

The things we are afraid of and really care about aren’t necessarily going to be the things we’re afraid of and care about five years from now.

When I’m afraid of things, I can’t move. It’s hard to breathe. Because I’m worried about whether she’ll like me, or he’ll want to work with me, or if I have what it takes to be financially successful.

I know that the things I’m afraid of today probably won’t matter tomorrow. And I think we need to find a way to live courageously in all things. Because life is too short to spend it afraid.

So, maybe ask the difficult question. Say “I love you.” Sing and dance, because fuck it. Kiss the girl. Take the career plunge.

Breathe it in and let it out.

Because then everything changes.

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The Flammable Heart

heart-on-fire

I used to be homophobic, an unabashed litterer, and so pro-life that I would argue passionately against the idea that women should have a right to choose whether to abort babies.

I used to believe all illegal immigrants should be deported. I used to believe that any system rewarding racial or gender quotas was shitty and unfair. I used to believe racism wasn’t a problem in the United States and was limited to a few uneducated rednecks with nothing better to do than hate people.

I used to think that if you didn’t believe Jesus was God, you were ignorant, uneducated and doomed to a life of dissatisfaction and an unpredictable afterlife.

And if you didn’t agree with me, you were wrong.

I don’t like to write about religion or politics or any controversial subjects where, afterward, you might decide you don’t like me because we don’t agree on the same things.

Because that happens.

Really conservative people find out Matt Damon and LeBron James stumped for President Obama and all the sudden both guys are morons and “I’m never watching Good Will Hunting or the NBA again!!!”

Really liberal people find out Gene Simmons is conservative and that Ted Nugent is a gun advocate and enthusiast and all the sudden both guys are morons and “I never liked their shitty music anyway!!!”

I don’t want to write things that cause division.

I don’t want to write things that cause anger.

I don’t want to write things that could lead to you thinking I’m a bad or stupid or foolish person.

I like exploring all of the things that connect us and not the things that divide us.

But today? I want to write about what I think and why.

And I want to write about the process of believing one thing and then changing my mind, and what that might mean.

Maybe I’ll offend you. Maybe you won’t like me afterward. I hope that’s not what happens. And if you do disagree I hope you’ll tell me why because I love to discover other perspectives that help me evolve.

That’s So Gay

Maybe it’s because I was raised in a really conservative, Catholic environment in a small Ohio town where boys played football and never wore pink. But I was always homophobic growing up.

As far as I knew, I didn’t know any gay people, but they probably all had AIDS and wore leather chaps. And if they were guys? They all probably wanted to shower with me naked and touch my penis and convert me to gaydom.

I was also taught that God got soooo angry at gay people during Old Testament times that he destroyed an entire city with fire where everyone was apparently having gay sex. It was soooo bad that if you turned around and looked at the city while it was being destroyed you turned into salt.

Being gay must be REALLY bad!

And then I grew up and met a bunch of gay people. Not ONE has mistreated me or displayed a tendency for unkindness. Ever. Not one ever wore leather chaps in front of me. No one ever tried to hook up with me except for creeper Giovanni that one time.

EVEN IF you subscribe to the premise that the act of homosexual sex is sinful because the Bible says so, it dawned on me one day that a bunch of straight people have sex all the time too even if they aren’t married and that THAT is also a sin, according to biblical teachings. Yet, we don’t see this huge groundswell of anti-premarital sex opponents boycotting organizations or forming lobbying groups against pre-marital sex rights.

Want to know why?

Because basically everyone thinks about sex all the time and wants to do it and most people actually do even if they’re not married. And because people are hypocrites and capable of justifying damn near anything, they think their straight sins are less bad than gay sins.

I don’t like hypocrisy. And I don’t think I’m in ANY position to start “ranking” sins. So one day I stopped.

And now? I want people to do what’s in their heart. And to love who they love.

If the God I believe in exists, that all-powerful creator will sort out all the nonsense in the next life.

If my God doesn’t exist, my consciousness will simply shut off like a light bulb when I die and I’ll decompose in the ground and worms and insects will eat me, and being unkind to people because they liked to have sex with people of the same gender will not have done me any good.

Oh, Those Environmentalist Whackos!

I used to litter all the time, mostly by chucking cigarette butts out my car window. But I would also sometimes throw out empty cans or used napkins or whatever else. Garbage that would end up in a country road ditch.

This lasted until I was 22 and moved to Florida and started hanging out by the whitest sand and clearest water I’d ever seen.

I’d find cigarette butts and discarded trash on the beach. How could they do that!?!?, I’d think.

Then I realized what a hypocritical douchebag I was being and stopped throwing cigarette butts out the window for someone else to clean up or to wind up in that beautiful water.

I was also a newspaper reporter and I covered the power companies in Florida. I began to research and report on stories about certain power plant emissions into the air and discharge into nearby waters.

The mercury levels in fish got so bad near one power plant that people couldn’t eat it. I learned about how high mercury levels in your body are virtually irreversible and can cause serious illness over time.

I started to think about how the planet was here long before me and how it will be here long after I’m gone. I started thinking about how our ancestors were such good stewards of the land, and how we’re so shitty at it. We just mow down trees and wipe out various species because we want to build another strip mall, or build a new deck from exotic Brazilian hardwoods.

I decided it was bullshit. I’m not for punishing businesses based on incomplete science. But I am absolutely for erring on the side of taking good care of the world around us. And I’m absolutely blown away that it has become a political issue.

There’s a place in the Pacific Ocean called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” because it has so many plastic particles floating on or near the surface. I want to know what political party is in favor of that.

The Right to Choose

Is there a more divisive topic? I don’t think so. It scares me to talk about and write about. Especially because I’m a guy and believe my opinions are worth about 20 percent of what a (potential) mother’s opinion is worth because I will NEVER be faced with some of the very difficult choices pregnant women sometimes face.

For all my life, I believed abortion isn’t a whole lot different than killing a baby.  I’ve never understood the argument that an eight-month-old baby in her mother’s womb is different from a two-week-old baby outside the womb. I have a couple cousins in their 20s who were born premature. After six or seven months.

And my brain is simply incapable of coming to a conclusion that we MUST protect that baby outside the womb, but that deciding the fate of the child still in the womb is somehow optional, even though, mathematically, the child in utero may actually be older.

It’s all very messy and confusing.

I’ve come to believe that Roe vs. Wade is unlikely to ever be overturned, and that even if it was, it wouldn’t stop abortions from happening.

I have made a choice to not debate it. The only pregnancy that is any of my business in the history of the world is the one that involved my wife and son. The rest are not my business.

Some people are so passionate against abortion that they protest outside of abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood buildings and intimidate young women who might be scared and need help. They usually do this in the name of Christianity despite acting NOTHING like Jesus ever did. A few of them have even bombed clinics or killed doctors who perform abortions. I can’t stand with people like that.

The Immigration Issue

Because I was ignorant, I used to think of immigrants as only being poor people from places like Mexico or Cuba. I never took any time to think about the fact that my great-grandparents immigrated to this country in the 1930s, and opened a bakery in Cincinnati, Ohio before getting freaky and making my grandmother who loves Liam Neeson and remains alive and well.

Did my great-grandparents do it all legally and pay taxes? Yes. And is there a difference between that and the way some people sneak across the border and live undocumented in the United States and other countries? Sure.

But imagine being a young child growing up in Mexico. And your grandfather and your father and your uncles and your older brothers all snuck into the United States and worked for cash and sent money back home so your family could eat food. Imagine if that was the only thing you ever knew. How could you ever believe it was wrong?

While I very much want people working in this country to pay taxes and contribute because our country is essentially a failing business right now that needs to find a way to become a profitable one if we’re going to survive into the future, I have to be a human being first.

And anyone who thinks money is more important than people will never find themselves on the same side of a debate as me.

People have to matter most.

No Racism Because Obama, Jordan, Hendrix!

Because I was obsessed with Michael Jordan and most of my sports heroes were black and Eddie Murphy was the funniest man alive, there’s no way racism was still a problem in America.

Lincoln freed the slaves in 1836!!!

I used to think that when I was a kid. Want to know why? Because I’m white and despite growing up a little poor, I STILL was able to attend private school and almost never had anything really bad or dangerous happen around me. Because police never once suspected I might be up to no good because of my skin color or because of how I dressed.

I’m a white, straight man. As the hilarious Louis CK once said: You can’t even offend me. That’s how good straight white guys have it. I’m trying to think of a time someone discriminated against me and I thought it was unfair and was somehow denied an opportunity because of it.

I’m drawing a blank.

And if you’re like me? And you can’t think of a time like that either? Maybe it would be wise to join me in my quest to be less of an asshole and pretend like I understand what it’s like to be black or female or gay or an immigrant in the United States.

I Have Faith, But I Don’t Know

I have believed in God my entire life but I can’t and won’t say that I know there’s a God.

I’m sorry. I can’t do it.

I don’t know.

I believe, based on my personal experiences, that there’s a God. God makes sense to me. I look around at all the miracles and intricacies that make up this amazing and awe-inspiring world and universe we live in. And I see purpose. Intent. Design.

Other people look around at war and kids with cancer and injustice and ask: How could a benevolent God allow such things?

It’s a fair question. And I don’t have any answers. Some of the best people I know are tested the hardest. They don’t deserve it. Other people are heathens, and they seem to have everything in life go their way.

Why?

The most important thing to happen to me as an adult is when I realized and admitted that I just don’t know.

Don’t know, what?

Don’t know anything. Not in any sort of big-picture sense. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I die. And I’m not going to act like a lunatic and pretend that I do. It’s foolish and a time-waste.

But I know things about how my mind and body respond to things that happen around me.

I know that injustice makes me feel rage.

I know that tragedy makes me feel sad.

I know that being helpful and giving more than I take gives me meaning and purpose.

I know that love—not just romantic love—but the love I feel for us, for people, sets my heart on fire.

And if that isn’t a good compass to follow for how we should live, then I’ll never know what is.

I don’t have any answers but I have a whole bunch of questions.

Sometimes, things make me feel shitty. I’m going to try to not do those things.

And some things make me feel awesome. Like I really am connected to you and him and her and them, no matter what they think and no matter who they have sex with and no matter what color skin they have and no matter who or what they pray to.

We’re all going to die. But not today.

And the things we used to do or think that were wrong have no bearing on who or what we are now.

None of us can change the entire world.

But every one of us can change our own.

Maybe go tell someone you love them. Right now.

Then do something about it.

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The Human Mosaic

mosaic tiles

“I love pizza.”

“I love pizza, too! It’s my favorite!”

“What’s your favorite kind?”

“Deep dish with white sauce and chicken, tomato and spinach!”

“Wait. What? That’s barely even pizza.”

“Of course it’s pizza. I get it from pizza makers. What’s your favorite kind?”

“Normal stuff! Pepperoni. Sausage. Mushroom. Extra cheese. Tomato sauce. New York-style crust, preferably.”

“Sausage? Thin crust? Gross!”

A couple of human beings with a shared passion. And still disagreeing.

One of the worst things about me is my ability to make people feel like I don’t respect them when my personal tastes differ from theirs.

It might even be why I’m not married anymore.

Because my perfectly intelligent wife couldn’t flip through TV stations and pause on 16 and Pregnant or some other morally bankrupt show without me making some snide comment about it that made her feel like I didn’t respect her.

Because everything I do is so smart and righteous!!! Excuse me while I drink too much and air hump something, puke in the bathroom, and play Grand Theft Auto V all morning while I recover from the hangover.

I’m such an asshole sometimes.

“I love music.”

“I love music, too! It’s my favorite!”

“What’s your favorite band?”

“I mostly listen to whatever is popular on the radio!”

“…”

“What!?”

“I love peanut butter.”

“I love peanut butter, too! It’s my favorite!”

“Crunchy or creamy?”

“Creamy, of course!”

“God.”

“I love wine.”

“I love wine, too! It’s my favorite! What’s your favorite kind?”

“I like many wines, but lean heavily toward dry reds.”

“Ohhh. You’re one of ‘those’! I like sweet wines!”

“Like boxed white zin?”

“Yes!”

“God.”

I wonder why it is that so many of us have so much trouble accepting that other people have radically different tastes and points of view, then embracing and acknowledging that it’s not only okay, but preferable to everyone liking the exact same things.

“I love God and want to go to heaven!”

“I love God and want to go to heaven, too! Also I’m gay and pro-choice.”

“Burn in hell, sinner.”

Why do we fight it? Politics? Is that why? The political arena is a useful place for healthy debate and exchanging ideas. But out here, where 99 percent of us live, why do we treat people like shit because they voted for the other guy in the last election?

If an asteroid was going to destroy the planet tomorrow, I wonder how many people would care about who voted for who.

“I love reading.”

“I love reading, too! It’s my favorite!”

“What do you like to read?”

“French poetry, biographies, and romance novels. Want to borrow a book?”

“…”

We’re all different. But we’re all the same, too. We all have different interests and passions and beliefs.

Many people like sports! But golf fans don’t have much to discuss with auto racing fans. Soccer fans don’t have much to discuss with baseball fans.

Many people like sex! But straight people don’t like the same things as gay people. And the things that make one person feel good can feel like a violation to another.

Many people love beer and movies and food and clothes and dancing and charitable causes and writing and pets and an infinite number of other things.

Hobbies and passions that unite massive amounts of people. Yet, even within those groups of common interests, there are people with radically different tastes and opinions about what is “right” or what is “best.”

People knew it was okay to enslave African people like property and treat them shitty.

People knew if they hijacked airplanes and flew them into buildings that they would die martyrs and be rewarded in heaven.

People knew the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.

People knew Y2K was going to cripple the world’s infrastructure.

People knew Bill Cosby was a good man.

People know they’re right and people who disagree are wrong. The people who are wrong know they’re right.

Maybe nobody really knows anything. And maybe thinking we do is holding us back from being the best versions of ourselves.

Maybe creamy peanut butter is actually better than extra crunchy peanut butter.

Maybe popular music is actually awesome. After all, it’s popular!

Maybe people who don’t like craft beer actually still like beer.

Maybe people who prefer white pizza actually do qualify as pizza lovers.

Maybe we’re always just too close to the mosaic to see what everything really looks like from the big-picture perspective. To see why that piece is here and that piece is there. And why they’re all different shapes and sizes and colors.

Step back and look.

A little bit further.

There.

Beautiful.

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Rethinking the Problem

The Penrose Stairs. Every corner is the both the top AND bottom. Artwork by kitkat93 at Deviant Art.

The Penrose Stairs. Every corner is both the top AND bottom. Artwork by kitkat93 at Deviant Art.

Because I’m keeping myself really busy with life problems, the holidays and self-imposed chores related to a business start-up, I’m worse than ever at keeping a queue of writing topics.

I have decided to try a Monday-Wednesday-Friday posting schedule after my nearly daily posting fizzled out early this year.

It’s Wednesday. I want to write. And I’m drawing a blank.

It would be easy to just move on. But I want to be the kind of person that accomplishes goals even when they’re hard.

But how?

Finding a Different Angle

I took my son to see Big Hero 6 last weekend. I went to see Interstellar on Monday. And I saw this from the marketing world’s thought leader this morning.

My takeaway from all three experiences was a fervent desire to be the kind of problem solver that can approach obstacles from a totally unique point of view and find workarounds no matter the odds.

It’s hard to keep going even when it’s hard. Really hard.

We have trouble fighting for our relationships when it’s hard. It’s easier to quit.

Shouldn’t being in love be easy!?!?

We’d all like that. But I think it’s probably exactly as it’s supposed to be. Our muscles only get stronger when we work them hard. Our minds only get sharper when we work them hard. Our resolve only escalates when we overcome emotional adversity.

Maybe love is exactly as it should be. Challenging and messy. So only the few, the proud and the strong are rewarded with its infinite beauty after walking the walk heroically.

We have trouble trying to master new skills when it’s hard. It’s easier to quit.

I had this fantasy about being a good guitar player one day. I love music and thought (knew) girls would dig me more if I played.

I bought an acoustic guitar. I was gifted a nice Fender Stratocaster electric guitar for my 16th birthday. My parents couldn’t afford guitar lessons, but I went to the music store and acquired all the Learn How to Play the Guitar materials I could find.

My fingers hurt trying to learn how to hold the strings in place and I found chord transitions nearly impossible. So I quit and never picked up a guitar again.

I sometimes wonder if that same weakness is the reason I got divorced.

We have trouble developing good habits and routines when it’s hard. It’s easier to keep our lazy bad habits.

We have trouble committing to, and following through on, working out and healthy eating. We have trouble reading all the books on our bookshelf. We have trouble breaking unhealthy spending habits.

Even though it can’t possibly be that hard to quit (I did for a couple years in my early 20s), and even though it’s totally disgusting, I bite my fingernails all the time.

Why don’t I stop?

Maybe because it’s easier to just keep doing it.

In Big Hero 6, a young genius is tasked with wowing a crowd of geniuses at a robotics convention. He has to learn how to approach problems from new angles, ask new questions, discover better angles.

In Interstellar, an aeronautical engineer is tasked with traversing the universe in search of a habitable planet for humans.

This morning, Seth Godin wrote about redefining rules and boundaries to come up with creative solutions.

It reads:

“The thing about a clean sheet of paper

… is that it still has edges.

It’s tempting to believe that creativity comes from starting fresh. But even when we start fresh, we approach projects and problems with self-created boundaries.

You can’t do real work without edges, without something to leverage, but those edges don’t have to be the same edges as everyone else uses.

Creative people often excel because they change the shape of the clean sheet.”

Have Crazy Idea Sex All the Time

My favorite writer James Altucher is constantly reminding us to train our minds to become “idea machines.” He insists the part of our brain that generates new ideas is like a muscle, and that with regular work, you strengthen this muscle and new idea generation becomes easy and routine.

How do you become an Idea Machine?

He says you write down 10 ideas a day. Every day. And after six months, you’ll strengthen this muscle enough to be constantly churning out new, creative solutions to problems, big and small.

You can have ideas about anything.

How to build a gas pump that will pump fuel twice as fast.

How to make the world’s greatest pizza crust.

How to encourage robust economic development in rural towns.

Whatever. There are no limits to the topics that could benefit from new ideas. If you write down 10 ideas a day (even the bad ones!) for an entire year, you will have 3,650 new ideas.

Altucher says you can bank on at least a few of those being the kind of ideas that can turn into legitimate business ideas, or useful life hacks that can radically transform your life, or the lives of others.

Furthermore, there are endless possibilities of combining these ideas. Idea sex!

Endless possibilities make my heart race. Endless possibilities prevent boredom, which murders the little explorer that lives in our hearts and souls.

We were made to explore and discover and create and build. These are the things behind every great human achievement since forever.

I haven’t perfected the (very challenging) task of generating new ideas every day.

But I believe in it. That new ideas—new good ideas that change lives, whether it’s just one life or many—are our most-precious resource.

We forget to think.

It’s because we get so busy stressing about all the things that don’t really matter because we’re all going to be dead someday, and because we watch sitcoms and reality TV, and because we eat McDonald’s and Cool Ranch Doritos.

We get so caught up in the routines of our lives and intimidated by the boundaries we create for ourselves that we totally forget we can build rockets and fly into outer space because there are almost no unsolvable problems.

Anything that looks like one just means we need to turn the problem around and upside down and find a new way to look at it.

Anything that looks like one just means we haven’t asked the right question yet.

For instance: What am I going to write about?

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The Faux Apocalypse

Image by eKBS at Deviant Art.

Image by eKBS at Deviant Art.

The world ended 616 days ago when my wife moved out and my little son became someone I only got to see half the time.

He was 4. The same age I was when my mom left my dad.

That was one year, eight months, and six days ago.

Today isn’t any sort of anniversary. And I’m only thinking about it because I had a perfectly pleasant and seemingly “normal” email exchange about a couple things with my son’s mom.

We were married nine years. It mattered. And it’s sad that we’re not married anymore on a handful of levels.

The most-shocking thing about getting divorced was feeling how hard it was even though I’d already experienced divorce as a child. Your entire life you hear about couples getting divorced, but it never really seems like that big of a deal from the outside looking in.

In the case of a death, we rush to everyone’s side. We send sympathy cards and flowers and make lasagnas. But when people get divorced, we just shrug and think: Gee. That sucks.

But then you get divorced.

And you can’t even breathe.

Maybe it’s because you were so accustomed to the rhythm of life. You get up, kiss your wife and son, go to work, come home, have dinner together, do this or that and go to sleep and do it again the next day.

Routine feels safe.

And then it stops suddenly and you freak out because everything’s different now and change scares us.

And maybe it’s because an actual piece of your soul was intertwined with someone else’s soul. And divorce doesn’t surgically separate that. It just rips the shit out of it and leaves it bleeding.

You gasp for breath. Frantically try to take your mind off it with TV or books or parties or friends or drinks or family or work, but everything you do and experience reminds you of your now-failed marriage.

Your now-failed life.

It reminds you of broken homes and broken dreams and broken hearts.

It reminds you that you had ONE job that really mattered.

And you didn’t get it done.

And you cry.

And then you’re someone else. You’re not who you were. You look in the mirror and think: Who the hell are you?

Someone unfamiliar. Someone strange and broken.

The Time Machine

Life doesn’t have a fast-forward button to get through the hard times. We just have to gut it out.

And it’s excruciatingly slow when everything feels poisoned and broken and wrong.

But life does have a funny way of making it seem—in hindsight—as if time flew by. Maybe it’s our mind’s way of healing.

But here we are. One year, eight months, and six days later.

What have I learned? Am I healed? What can I do to make sure I never feel that way again?

I’ve learned that divorce is worse than I thought. The emotional fallout is unlike anything I could have ever imagined. And losing so much time with your child? Life is too short and too precious to lose what little time we have with our children.

But this is what happens when two people can’t muster up the fortitude and courage necessary to love even when it’s hard. It’s a tall order. It can feel impossible. But if we’ll step in front of a truck or bullet to save our child from harm, it seems particularly foolish and selfish to suggest we can’t also be courageous enough to choose to love someone we already promised to love and cherish forever. Because that’s what is best for our children.

And certainly not in ALL cases, but in most, I believe it’s what is best for us.

There are no perfect partners out there. There are no magic people with whom we will never fight or disagree. With whom we will always want to lustily ravage in the throes of passion.

The Other Side of Divorce

Am I healed?

Damn close. It’s still a tricky thing. A little sensitive. Particularly as it pertains to my son who I cherish above all things. I don’t like not seeing him half the time. I don’t like that I can’t do anything for him when he’s not with me. I don’t like that there will likely be another father figure in his life one day and that if that man is not a particularly good person down deep where it counts, I can’t be sure how that will rub off on my son.

But the most underrated, non-discussed aspect of divorce, from my perspective, is the ebb and flow and logistics of life.

I was born in 1979.

I was raised by parents until I was 18.

I went to college and lived with my best friend for four years.

I started dating my ex-wife, and even when I lived alone, she was always around to help me.

We were married nine years.

Then BOOM.

Here’s a big spoonful of shit, Matt. Eat it. You may not like it. But you better figure out how to deal anyway.

All the sudden, all the little things that need done when you own a house and care for a school-aged child come into play and blindside a guy that relied so heavily on a mom and a wife for the first thirty-whatever years of life. Wow. They did a lot. And with infinitely more efficiency than me.

It’s big and scary and some people totally shut down and can’t handle it. That was me for a stretch.

It all still scares me a little. But nothing like before. Because when you do something 616 days in a row, you realize that you can do it for 616 more.

I have fallen short in several areas, several times. I’m still figuring things out. But I’m getting there.

Love.

Fortitude.

Courage.

How Can I Stop This From Happening Again?

Because it’s really scary to break on the inside and I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

But how?

I don’t know. Nothing?

Do a better job at marriage if I’m ever someone’s partner again?

That’s the rub. Marriage and divorce are big and scary propositions. Ones we don’t see coming when we’re young and in love and feeling invincible.

There’s no insurance against heartache.

Someone can always leave you.

People will always die.

Humans will always be human.

I always say I don’t know much. Still true. I just know the few things I know based on my own experiences. Those are the only things I can really be sure about. And they only really apply to me, and anyone who happens to be like me.

And here’s what I know: Divorce is hard. Excruciating. But you just keep breathing. And after hundreds of days, it doesn’t feel so hard anymore.

I know that I kind of wanted to die because I didn’t want to feel so bad.

And 616 days later, I don’t want to die anymore.

I know that I didn’t know how I was going to get through life alone, raising a young son when I can’t even take care of myself.

And 616 days later, I can take care of myself. And I’ve never felt more pride in anything than I do in that little boy.

I know that I was broken, gasping for air and searching for purpose. I don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m scared.

And 616 days later, I feel whole, I can breathe and I am thrilled to be raising my son with his mom while continuing to push my own limits at home and in my career, building a new life, creating more purpose.

I still don’t know what’s going to happen.

But with 616 days in the books? I know I can handle it.

And I’m pretty sure tomorrow is going to be better than today.

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The World Needs Clock Punchers

time clock

I bet I’ll panic when I’m dying.

I get nervous about things. And I’m pretty sure I’ll be nervous about dying.

Scared probably, unless I’m in so much pain I welcome the relief.

What will I think about?

I can only guess. But I’ve always been a good guesser. I will think about my son, hopefully an older man himself at that point. Maybe I’ll have grandchildren. Maybe there will be a woman I love. I don’t know.

But I do know one thing.

Much of what I feel will be predicated on my satisfaction with my life choices.

On whether I lived in fear, grinding out my prime years behind cubicle walls in a corporate office.

On whether I lived courageously. And took my shots.

A guy I work with thinks I’m too ambitious. He thinks maybe I’m not grateful for my job and the money I make even though I am.

Today, I was editing a contributing writer’s column for our company blog. The writer is a long-time, well-respected, talented auto mechanic and hot rod builder.

While describing how to fix something, he wrote about a tool needed to complete the job. According to this long-time industry expert, no tool of this kind exists for automotive applications. Only in woodworking, and they are all insufficient for precision metal cutting.

I turned to my co-worker and said: “People need this tool. Why is it no one’s making it?”

It sparked a conversation about filling needs in the marketplace. About how you capitalize on opportunity.

But it quickly turned.

“Do you really want to work 60-hour weeks?” he said. “Because that’s what it takes to start a business.”

“Well. I think there’s an argument for putting in long hours early, so that you can work less and earn more as you age,” I said.

“I don’t want to do that,” he said. “I just want to work my 40 hours and go home. The world needs clock punchers.”

Everyone Has a Role

He’s right, of course.

The world does need worker bees. The productive people needed to execute the various tasks that make businesses function effectively, providing their goods or services to customers.

Not everyone will be a boss.

Not everyone will earn top salaries.

Not everyone will accumulate financial wealth.

I have a friend preparing for law school. She’s taking the LSAT soon and has been highly stressed about it and other life happenings. Go-to-the-hospital stressed.

“This is important,” she said of the test, trying to justify the stress.

“No it’s not,” I said. “In 500 years we will all be dead and it won’t have mattered at all.”

She understood me.

“When you think about that… that so few things actually matter… what does it make you want to do?” she said.

We’re all going to die and none of this petty stuff matters at all.

We FREAK about all this stuff. Money. Spats with our spouses or parents or children or siblings or friends. About things going on at work. About some task that “needs” taken care of because we’re always busy, busy, busy! So much to do!

It doesn’t matter.

It’s amazing we’ve all convinced ourselves it does.

I thought about her question. What does it make me want to do?

You’ll probably think it’s cliché. But I said: “Love.”

Not romantic love. The kind where you shine light in the darkness.

I said: “Forgive.”

There is no peace without forgiveness. There can be no happiness without peace.

I said: “Laugh.”

Even though I can’t find any scientific proof to back it up, I hear over and over again the claim that children laugh about 300 times a day and that adults laugh less than 20.

Even if it’s not true, it IS true that life gets harder and grayer and crueler and heavier as you age. You grow up and make mistakes and the stains from guilt and past mistakes and sinif you believe in such a thingdarken our insides.

We feel just a little less innocent.

Just a little less hope.

Just a little less joy.

But if we could laugh 300 times a day, I think it would help.

I said: “Seek adventure” as my fourth answer to the question: What does the realization that most of the things we do not mattering make me want to do with this time I get to be alive?

For me?

Adventure is being spontaneous.

Adventure is travel.

Adventure is meeting strangers.

All four answers have one thing in common: The desire for FREEDOM.

The optimum human experience, near as I can tell, would be one where we woke up each day feeling safe, with the resources (financial or otherwise) needed to care for ourselves and our loved ones, and the freedom to spend our waking hours pursuing our passions however we wanted.

Hopefully, those passions would often serve something greater than ourselves, lest we find ourselves always drunk or high or having sex.

I keep trying to find a workaround. But I haven’t solved the riddle.

Near as I can tell, we have two choices to achieve a state of abundance.

Acquire wealth—to whatever degree you define it. (Some people crave $75,000 per year. Others crave $1 million per.)

Or, live a minimalist lifestyle. Reducing “need” eliminates the pressures and necessity of acquiring more money to pay for more things.

I prefer a combination. Spiritually, I do not want to need “things” because things have never made me feel happy or content for very long. Not even once.

But I also crave money because there are things I want to do (including charity) that I am unable to do at my current income level.

So, my plan is to acquire more money sans the desire for more “stuff.”

See You in 10 Years

I was irritated with my co-worker because I think he lacks vision and passion.

My co-worker was irritated with me because he thinks I’m an ingrate.

“Some people aren’t cut out for more than office work,” he said. “In 10 years, I’ll probably be gone, and you’ll probably be sitting right here. See you in 10 years!” he said.

There’s nothing wrong with punching a clock. Our jobs do not define us. Our jobs that won’t matter one bit in 500 years when we’re all dead.

But freedom?

Freedom matters. Because we don’t have a lot of time. And because we’re all going to die.

And we’re all going to have to ask ourselves: Did I give it everything I had?

Keep telling me what I can’t do, friend.

The world needs clock punchers.

But I’m not going to be one of them.

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Want to Make Magic?

How-the-Grinch-Stole-Christmas-christmas-movies-17366574-1067-800

She’s a mom.

A mom with four kids and a husband doing the best he can to provide for all of them.

She’s a sister.

A sister who lost her 28-year-old brother in an accident last year.

She’s an aunt.

An aunt now raising her 2 ½-year old nephew—a little boy who will never know his father.

The kids don’t ask for much, their mom says. All they wanted last year was a Christmas tree in their living room. But it was impossible. Things were too tight, financially.

This year, the children are asking for a tree for the holidays again. But things are still tight.

Five little kids. Three girls. Two boys. The oldest child is 9.

All of them looking at a second straight year.

No tree.

No Santa.

No Christmas.

Can I help?

We Are Not Assholes

In December 2011, a blogger who authored Martinis or Diaper Genies? was getting trolled by commenters put off by however much money they though she had. She retorted by writing a sarcastic post that encouraged everyone to leave their financial status details in the comments. Many people left joking comments, playing along.

But one didn’t.

A woman named Catherine wrote about how she and her husband were both laid off. About fears regarding how they would pay their bills. About their young child who was unlikely to have gifts to open Christmas morning.

A small movement was born. WANA. An acronym for We Are Not Assholes. The writer’s family helped Catherine’s family that Christmas and turned WANA into a tool for people to help needy families during the holidays.

She is a mother of two.

A mother who recently had to quit her job, because…

She’s also an aunt.

An aunt to her sister’s three children who she is now caring for, too.

“My husband works, but that just gets us by,” she said. “I would like to make all five kids’ Christmas magical, but it’s not looking that way.”

Can I help?

Hope for the Holidays

Fellow blogger Rachel, author of 2crazylittleboys, tried to resurrect WANA for the 2014 holiday season but was unable to track down its founder. Instead, Rachel launched her own WANA-like campaign, which she is calling Hope for the Holidays.

The mission: To put people who need help in touch with people who want to help.

It’s that simple.

What to do if you need help:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Tell your story in the comments.

How to help families:

1. Visit this post at Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys.

2. Read stories about real people in need of real help. If it sets your heart on fire, make the connection and help in whatever way you’re comfortable.

How to help the cause:

1. Share this post from Rachel’s blog 2crazylittleboys on Facebook or Twitter.

2. Connect with Rachel and help spread the word by writing about her efforts to make a difference.

She is a mother of five.

Three boys. Two girls.

Her 8-year-old daughter has a chronic medical condition. She has been to the hospital 27 times in 2014.

The child’s health is improving. The financial health of the family is not.

Can I help?

If I could magically ask every single person in the United States for a penny and explain why I was doing so, I bet everyone would give me one (I would just steal them from little babies who didn’t understand my question because I’m bigger and stronger).

I bet some people would give much more than a simple penny.

If everyone in the United States (about 323 million people) gave me one penny to help people buy gifts for needy children, I would have $3.2 million, which buys a lot of books and toys.

I like to think about things like that, because sometimes people think they can’t help because they only have $5 or $10 to give.

That’s enough.

I want to give more than I take in all things. Because I think if every person does that, then everyone will always have enough and feel good and life will be magical.

Not everyone will give more than they take.

Not everyone CAN give more than they take.

But maybe I can.

Maybe you can.

I watched my son sleeping last night. His little face looking so handsome and innocent. A face free from the worries and stresses life sometimes throws our way.

My heart breaks almost every time he cries. This child who has all of his needs met and MOST of his wants.

I don’t have to look into the faces of children who do not have their needs met.

But I know they’re real.

And I can’t make them all smile. I can’t make their lives easy and beautiful.

But I can help a child or two smile on one very special morning.

I can help a parent or two avoid the misery of feeling like they failed their children when they spend every day giving all they have to give.

Joy. Because of unexpected treasures to unwrap.

Gratitude. Because we always appreciate blessings more when we don’t expect them.

Magic. Because that’s precisely what we manufacture when our hearts are on fire.

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It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Have you heard? The earth used to be flat.

Have you heard? The earth used to be flat.

My uncle saw the yellow piece of paper stuck under the windshield and walked over to investigate.

A police ticket with a $175 fine.

One of the service vans he owns as part of his flooring store operation in a small Ohio town had expired tags.

The man makes plenty of money. $175 doesn’t mean much to him.

But the man is also principled. And the more he thought about the ticket, the more irritated he became.

It doesn’t have to be this way, he thought.

All of his friends and family told him not to. But he decided to fight the ticket.

His “guilt” was not in question. The van had expired tags that everyone at the company had simply forgot to renew.

But he was having trouble with the spirit of the law.

“If my van is sitting still in a parking lot with expired tags, is that somehow a public threat or nuisance?” he said. “Why not give residents a 24-48-hour warning period, where they can go pay the registration fees and get updated tags without the added penalty from the police department? What good does any of that do?”

I had never thought about this before. But he’s right. I’m all for making sure vehicle owners have an updated license and registration. But why tax people simply for being busy or forgetful? Why not give them a chance to do it right? An expiration date, where the fine is waived if they register in time?

What harm could that possibly cause?

My uncle argued with the judge in court. She got pissed, told him he was wasting the court’s time and piled on some community service hours in addition to his fine.

Six years ago, we were having a new garage built at our house after a large tree had fallen in a wind storm and destroyed our old garage.

We left town to visit family more than 500 miles away for the holidays. Because the contractors needed to back up trucks and equipment into my driveway while we were out of town, I parked my other car on the street in front of the house.

While we were gone, a snow storm hit.

There is a city ordinance requiring people to not park in the street when the snow plows are out. But because I was out of town, I, A. Didn’t know about the storm, and B. Couldn’t move the car even if I had known.

The city towed my car, and it cost a few hundred dollars to get it back.

That was bullshit.

The Things We Do

Why, I wonder, do we do all these things?

Who decided we’re all going to send our kids in herds to school and teach them the same things and tell them “Be yourself! Be a leader, not a follower!” but everything we do is encourage them to do the same things everyone else is doing.

When you’re a little kid, you don’t question why you’re doing anything. Your parents tell you and all your friends are doing it, so you just do it also.

WHY ARE WE DOING THIS!?!?

I want to know.

I want to know why we don’t give parents more choices. I want to know why we don’t let kids learn about whatever they want to learn about and help them master something. I want to know why we all seem to blindly agree and go along with this being “the way.”

Some less fortunate kids think all you do is get through junior high, hustle through high school, and try to live as long as possible in adulthood, dodging cops and bullets. Because it’s all they know.

Really fortunate kids like me were herded into school and encouraged to do well because we “HAD to go to college to get a good job!!!” and everyone else was doing it anyway, so even if you didn’t HAVE to, you just assumed that was the way.

We never questioned it. We just followed the crowd. The existing rulebook that said: 1. Go to school. 2. Go to college. 3. Get a job. 4. Get married. 5. Try to make as much money as possible. 6. Try to not die. 7. If you’re lucky, retire at 65 and have enough money to not live in poverty for as long as you can survive. 8. Die and pay estate taxes.

I sit in a cubicle every day.

It’s because I make just enough money where I feel like I can’t afford to quit. Why can’t I afford to quit?

Because I have to pay my mortgage. And for a car. And for cable TV and Internet access. And for my son’s tuition. And all these little things I’m convinced I “need.”

It’s a pretty good job and I’m grateful to have it. Very. I’ve been unemployed. It’s a real shit show. This is better.

But still I ask: Why? Why are we doing it this way?

We wear business-casual every day. Khakis and button-ups and polo shirts and dress shoes. And always arrive at the same time, even though the only thing I require to do my job is a computer with Internet access. I could do it from almost anywhere.

The company invests my salary and benefits package in me (which I appreciate!) and in return, I make them a lot more money than they pay me through strategic execution of my duties—many of which are measureable, and I take great pride in improving those numbers as much as I can.

But despite that value I—and all my co-workers provide—we still have to wear these clothes, and sit at these desks, and be here at this time, and leave at that time. We’ll all get almost-4 percent raises if we’re lucky that should end up almost offsetting the cost of rising healthcare.

I’m not bagging on my employer. They really are wonderful relative to “companies.”

But I am bagging on rules that no longer make sense to me.

Three hundred years ago, if you sailed on a boat too far in any direction, you would fall off the edge into a chasm of nothingness.

A hundred years ago, black people, women and people attracted to the same sex were commonly considered second-class citizens by assholes who look like me. Huge groups of marginalized immigrants experienced the same level of discrimination.

A hundred years ago, alcohol was illegal.

Fifty years ago, basically every single person smoked tobacco.

Twenty years ago, almost none of us had ever used the Internet.

Ten years ago, the iPhone was three years away from invention.

Today, marijuana is legal for medical use in 15 or so U.S. states, and legal for recreational use in two.

Momentous changes that we somewhat take for granted but required enormous courage and fortitude to affect for those passionate to the cause.

We don’t need to fly to Mars, but we could.

We don’t need to cure cancer, but we will.

We just need to be courageous enough to look at all the things happening around us and ask: “Why are we doing this? 

Sometimes, it makes a lot of sense. Sometimes, there are excellent reasons why.

Other times? Small business owners are getting fined because someone they employ forgot to pay $50 for a sticker with a new number on it.

So my uncle is going to run for mayor and try to change the law.

So I’m going to make my own job where maybe someday I can hire people and make sure all of the “rules” at our company make sense to everyone who is helping grow it.

How can we do this better? How can I help?

Because there’s always another way.

Because there’s always a better way.

Because it doesn’t have to be like this.

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How to Change Your Life and Always Feel Good

a-charlie-brown-thanksgiving

Warning: If you’re someone who A. Reads this blog regularly, or B. Prefers feeling miserable, you can skip this one because you’ve seen most of it before, or potentially run the risk of feeling better about your life.

Please just stop.

Just for a minute.

Stop.

And use every bit of brainpower and awareness and common sense you possess to ask yourself: Why am I doing this?

Doing what? Doesn’t matter. Anything. Whatever you’re doing.

It probably applies most to your job if you have one, or your decision to attend school if you’re a student.

It probably applies to your home life. To your relationships. To your decision about where you live and whether you rent or buy, and what you do when you have free time.

But it really applies to every waking moment.

Why are we doing this?

“What is it that you really want?” people like to ask. It’s a really great question. And we’re sometimes quick to fire off some answers that we probably think are true.

Money!

True love!

World peace!

Or maybe something more specific.

A million dollars!

A spouse who makes me feel safe!

An end to all the fighting in the Middle East!

I think I want all kinds of things. A more-lucrative career. Writing success. Maybe a really nice house and cars. Maybe the means to go on adventurous vacations and see the world. And little things. Like a massive television or a kitchen and bathroom upgrade or my favorite team to win the championship.

Sometimes I feel bad when I don’t get what I want.

Sometimes We Need a Wake-Up Call

The ability to empathize can sometimes provide us with the dose of reality and perspective we need without actually having to suffer through a crisis or tragedy. That’s always nice.

Other times, maybe we need the bad things to happen to us.

I lost my family.

The two most-important people in my world. One gone half the time. A little boy I sometimes feel as if I’m constantly failing. The other, gone forever.

And I felt so horrible that all of the things I thought I wanted I quickly realized—for the first time—just how irrelevant those things like money and new televisions really were.

When you’re broken on the inside, there is no checking account balance large enough to mend you.

Early this year, I had a tonsil infection with symptoms that mirror Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There were a few days where I thought I might have an illness serious enough to kill me and I was scared.

I’m pretty sure having a really luxurious kitchen or a 100-inch television wouldn’t have quelled my fears.

Last May, I was whining about my life right here when I learned about a lovely child named Abby Grace Ferguson. A little girl who the doctors say has a terminal illness they’ve never seen overcome.

Abby has a mom and dad.

A mom and dad like my son’s mom and dad. My son is 6. He’s in first grade and my soul bleeds any time I let the briefest thought pass through my brain about something bad happening to him.

Abby’s parents believed her to be perfectly healthy until she was 8, when she was diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome—a rare disease that causes progressive brain damage. Without a miracle, or radical medical advancement (which they’re working on!), Abby will lose her ability to walk, talk and feed herself. She will more than likely lose her hearing and have seizures. Most children diagnosed with Sanfilippo Syndrome do not live past their teenage years.

It’s unimaginable. What her parents must feel.

But I can assure you, me having Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma would seem like a pleasure cruise by comparison.

Everything is relative. Some people prefer to deal in absolutes. I try to stay as open and flexible as possible. Because the older I get, the less sure I am about how much I really know.

But I do know one thing.

I Know What You Want

I’m not saying you don’t want money. Because it’s easy to want.

I’m not saying you don’t want love. Life is emptier without it.

I’m not saying you don’t want world peace. Things would be less messy, scary and complicated.

When you strip away EVERYTHING? All the noise and bullshit?

All you really want is to feel happy. Is to feel content. Is to feel inner peace.

That’s it. That’s what you want.

You think money will make you feel content. You think the freedom and purchasing power it provides will make you feel happy. And you believe you’ll have more peace if you eliminate debt and don’t have a horrible boss and have sex regularly with someone you trust who says I love you and makes you feel confident and safe.

You want the stuff because you want that feeling. That feeling we call “happy.”

We don’t need stuff or status to feel good about our lives.

You could lie still on a couch watching reruns and feel amazing about your life if you only felt happy enough. And there are people like that. They’re called stoners and tweekers. Drugs are not a good choice. But they DO illustrate my point fabulously.

You don’t need more money.

You don’t need a nicer car or bigger house.

You don’t need things.

And if you believe otherwise, you might be doomed. I think most people are. To a life of dissatisfaction and sadness. And that’s no way to live.

I might argue you only need ONE thing to be truly happy: Gratitude.

“What!?”

Genuine, heartfelt gratitude is the prerequisite to true happiness, and you can change your life overnight simply by realizing it and working daily to stay mindful of it.

You have a house and aren’t sleeping outside in a box with no money or food? Thank you!

You have friends or family or children or pets to love and love you back? Thank you!

You can hear music and people speak because you’re not deaf? You can see sunsets and attractive people and your child’s smile because you’re not blind? You can walk or kiss or have medical insurance? You have lungs and breathe because you’re not currently drowning or being choked by someone mean and horrible?

Thank you!

Some people are going to roll their eyes. “You know who says ‘Money doesn’t buy happiness?’ People who don’t have any!”

Not everyone can be helped. Pity them and move on.

We have enough.

You ARE enough.

Choose happiness because it’s so much better than feeling terrible.

Choose gratitude because you can never be happy without it.

Choose love because you get what you give.

Tomorrow isn’t here and yesterday hardly matters.

All we have is right now.

I am eternally grateful for you.

Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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