How to Find Meaning and Purpose in Life

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Two most important elements in any life are meaning and purpose.  Your soul, your spirit and your sense of well-being may depend more on these two elements than anything else you will ever find.  Money, fame, and success will mean nothing if you do not believe that you are living a life consistent with your purpose.  Nothing you buy or acquire will have any importance to you if you do not feel that your life has any meaning.

Many books have been written about the elements of meaning and purpose.  Two of the most famous are “The Purpose Driven Life” and “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

 “Being successful and fulfilling your life’s purpose are not at all the same thing; You can reach all your personal goals, become a raving success by the worlds standard and still miss your purpose in this life.”  — “The Purpose Driven Life” —  Rick Warren

“These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. Thus, it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way. Questions about the meaning of life can never be answered by sweeping statements. ‘Life’ does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life’s tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man’s destiny, which is different and unique for each individual. No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny” — “Man’s Search for Meaning” —  Viktor Frankl

Perhaps, you still do not know what the difference is between purpose and meaning.  Do not despair.  There are as many ideas about the meaning of these two elements as there are about life after death.  Everyone seems to have their own ideas about these qualities, but everyone agrees on one thing; they are essential for a life that is worthwhile.  I am going to give you my take on them.  What they mean and how to find them for yourself.

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What Is the Difference between Meaning and Purpose?

We live in a world of contrasts and dualities.  Up and down, back and forth, good and bad, happiness and sadness.  Perhaps these are only our own perspective that we cast onto the world but for better or worse we are stuck with them.  The Yin and Yang concept is very useful in thinking about the world.  For every Yin there is a Yang.

“The principal belief of the Yin Yang is reflected in the categorization of musical tones. The two main forms of Taoist music are the Yin Tone and the Yang Tone.  Yin stands for all things that are female and soft and Yang stands for all things male and hard.  Through the proper balance of Yin (female) and Yang (male) a Taoist can find harmony and simplicity in all things.” (Bowker, 2000) — Wikipedia

Esoteric_Taijitu-5c85cc7b46e0fb00014319cdMeaning and purpose are Yin and Yang to each other.  Purpose is outside you and is what you do in the world.  For me purpose involves doing.  Meaning is inside you and what you do for yourself.  Meaning involves being rather than doing.  Let’s use a running race as an example.

I am a runner.  I have been running since I was twenty-five years old. I have run dozens of races.  Some of them were long and some were very short.  Let’s say I run a race and do so half-heartedly.  By fate or circumstance, I come in first place.  My purpose was to run and win the race or at least my age division now that I am 75.  How I ran it is somewhat irrelevant to my purpose.  In this case, I won, and I get the medal or trophy.  I may not have done my best, but the world does not care.  It rewards winners and not losers.  What we do for the world is our purpose.  We may not do our best, but we may still win the award.

My purpose in life is to help bring different perspectives and insights to the world through my writings.  I want to challenge conventional ways of doing things and thinking about things.  That is my purpose in life.  Purpose for me is about doing and not about being.

Back to the race.  I can run the race and give it my best.  I may go all out and still come in tenth or even dead last.  If I  know I did my best, I will feel good about myself, even though my results will not receive any accolades or awards.  To me, this is meaning.

img_7909Meaning in my dictionary is about living up to my potential, my values and my beliefs by doing the best I can each day to be consistent with them.  No one may ever know if I am being kind, compassionate or patient today.  You cannot see the inner virtues that I want to live by.  I am the only person at the end of each day who can judge whether or not my life had any meaning today.  If I can be the best person that I want to be each day, I will die feeling that my life had meaning.  To the rest of the world, I may just be another old teacher, old veteran or old guy who lived an average life and died at an average age.  Meaning to me is about being and not doing.

Martin Luther King in his famous Eulogy Speech summed up the meaning of his life very well when he told the world how we wanted to be remembered:

“Yes, if you want to, say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice.  Say that I was a drum major for peace. I  was a drum major for righteousness.  And all of the other shallow things will not matter.

I won’t have any money to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that is all I want to say. If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can cheer somebody with a well song, if I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong, then my living will not be in vain.”

We should all write a eulogy for ourselves before we die.  This is to let the world know what we tried to be and tried to do.  The world will see what we did do.  You won’t have to tell the world what you did.  Purpose is written in accomplishments, but meaning is written in how people feel about you.  Purpose is pride and success while meaning is love and integrity.  In some respects, it is impossible to separate being from doing and meaning from purpose.  They flow together like melody and rhythm in a song. They can be separated but together they make life more beautiful.

See my blog:  “How about writing your eulogy today?”

How do I find my purpose in life?

Your purpose in life will depend on both your skills and your interests.  If you match the two you may find what your purpose in life is.  If you have skills in mathematics or science and you are interested in the medical field, you may devote your life to working as a doctor or medical researcher.  If you love music and have a skill for playing instruments, perhaps you will be a composer or music teacher or musician.  These skills will be the vehicles that you use to share your purpose with the world.

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The above diagram was developed to help people find what their purpose in life is.  It has four elements which overlap.

  • What do you love?
  • What are you good at?
  • What can you be paid for?
  • What does the world need?

Ask yourself these four questions.  If you can find a way to make the answers mesh, you will have found your purpose in life.  Over time, your interest and the world’s needs may change.  Finding purpose is not always a once and for all effort.  Some lucky people find a purpose which takes them all through life.  Many of us will have several purposes before we finish our journey through life.

How do I find my meaning in life?

There are hundreds of formulas and suggestions for how to find meaning in life.  The one thing I am certain of is that each of us must define our own meaning.  We define our meaning by deciding what we want to be in life.  Notice, I did not say what we want to do in life.  What makes this a difficult question to answer is that what we want to be is defined by how we go about being.  We must realize that being and doing are inseparable.  There is a Yin and Yang here.

Ask yourself, what do I want to be?

new1_10If I answer, I want to be rich,  my meaning in life will be defined by how I go about becoming rich and what I do with my money.  If I want to be a writer, my meaning will be defined by what I write and how I go about the writing process.  If  I want to be happy, my meaning in life will be defined by how I go about achieving happiness.  No one except me can judge how I define myself.  People may say that I am not very rich or that I am not a very good writer, but it is what I believe about myself which will define my meaning in life.  Vincent Van Gogh is now widely regarded as one of the greatest painters of all time.  His paintings sell for millions of dollars.  However, in his lifetime, he sold only one painting.  It was to his sister-in-law who felt sorry for him.

91QvVMwW4BL._AC_SY606_“What am I in the eyes of most people — a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person — somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then — even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.”Quotes from The Letters of Vincent van Gogh, ©Excellence Reporter 2020 Vincent Van Gogh,

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I realize as I write this that some people will never care about the meaning or purpose of their lives.  Just as some people are goal oriented and others are not, meaning and purpose may be subjects that not all people desire or can even pursue.  Perhaps they are luxuries of a more educated or affluent existence.  Perhaps people born into abject poverty and hunger have more to worry about then the meaning and purpose of their lives.  Aldonza in the “Man of La Mancha” sang:

ALDONZA

Take the clouds from your eyes

and see me as I really am!

You have shown me the sky,

But what good is the sky

To a creature who’ll never

Do better than crawl?

9781780749327_27I conclude with the consideration that Meaning and Purpose may not be everyone’s cup of tea.  I confess that it was much later in my life and many hurdles had been taken and many obstacles overcome before I started caring about the meaning and purpose of life.  Now I look back and shake my head with some sorrow that I did not grasp their import on life when I was in my teens.  A have learned that a life without meaning and purpose is not a life, it is just living.

Happy? Happy? Happy? or Why Ain’t I Happier?

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We all feel that we are entitled to be happy.  The Bill of Rights lists happiness as one of our inalienable rights.  Actually, it lists the “pursuit of happiness.”  Just like chasing a rabbit or health or winning the lottery, you are assured of no guarantee that you will catch happiness.  But that won’t stop most of us from trying.  The sad part is that most of us will probably fail.

Failure in any endeavor is always assured if you don’t know what you are doing or if you don’t have a strategy.  But voila, that is where John and his Magic Blog come in.  I am here to give you six methods for catching happiness.  Furthermore, I will not charge you one cent for learning how you can be happy for the rest of your life.  So, listen closely, pay attention, and take notes if you have to.  I may only keep this blog up for a week, just in case I get inundated with requests from Fox News, MSNBC, the Today Show and/or Jimmy Kimmel.  Fame is not really conducive to happiness regardless of what they try to tell you.

Let’s start with one basic fact.  There are multiple theories about happiness.  What this means to me is that there is more than one road to happiness.  I have identified six different secrets or theories for obtaining happiness.  I will share each one of these secrets with you and give you the pros and cons as I see them.

Ooops, I almost forgot.  Some things will not make you happy even if the experts tell you that they will.  The following is a list of things that “ain’t necessarily so” when it comes to finding happiness. I list these so you can stay on track and not get seduced by what so many of your friends and neighbors think will make them happy.

  • Money
  • Good health
  • Fame
  • Power
  • Lots of friends
  • Family
  • Gourmet food
  • Long life
  • Sports
  • Reading
  • Taking naps
  • Sex
  • Children

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 1.  Absolute Theory of Happiness 

This theory says that happiness is a permanent trait that you too can find or acquire if you only try hard enough.  Happiness is an attribute like integrity or honesty.  Once you find it or get it, all you have to do is hold onto it.  It exists like a pot of gold somewhere buried and if you search long enough and hard enough you can find it.  People in search of happiness try many of the items on my above list in the hope that one of these will give them happiness.

Pros:

  • Treats happiness as a journey or quest.
  • Looks at happiness as a trait that can be acquired.

Cons:

  • Endless searching for something that is usually a dead end.
  • Happiness is not usually outside but more often inside.
  • Happiness is seldom if ever permanent.
  • Having things will not make you happy.

 2.  Contingency Theory of Happiness

imagesThis theory says that happiness is dependent on other things happening in your life.  You must have these other things going on or you will not be happy.  If you have a good family, or good job or you have meaningful work, you will be happy.  Contingency is like a correlation in statistics.  The process of having a good family correlates with happiness but having a good family does not make you happy.  Some things have a higher correlation with happiness than other things.  Some people believe that having less things is more conducive to happiness than owning a bunch of things.

Pros:

  • There is some correlation between happiness and living or doing the right things.
  • Doing the right things may result in some temporary happiness.

Cons:

  • Finding happiness is more complex than simply doing the right things.

3.  Outcome Theory of Happiness

downloadThis could also be called the “Cause and Effect” theory of happiness.  This theory says that certain things or activities will lead to the outcome of happiness.  For instance, becoming an Olympic Gold Medalist may lead an athlete to happiness.

Pros:

  • Great achievements and meaningful accomplishments can lead to happiness.

Cons:

  • No matter how much you have accomplished or how great your accomplishments are, the satisfaction you will receive and the happiness you may derive will only be temporary.

4.  Relative Theory of Happiness

xKgn9039You will always be happy in proportion to how happy others are around us.  If I have a great deal of money but my friends have more, I will be unhappy.  However, if I have a bigger office than anybody else in the company, I will be happier than they are.  The state of being happy will always be relative or in comparison to some other standard that I mark my happiness by.

Pros:

  • Humans have a great propensity to compare themselves to others.  If you are better, you may achieve a sense of happiness from your pride at being better.

Cons:

  • Pride and comparisons will always change. You may be on top for awhile but soon you will be on the bottom.  When you are on the bottom your happiness will disappear.

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5.  Average Theory of Happiness

Happiness is viewed as an average state of being.  You can never be beyond some mean of happiness.  Perhaps your mean will be different than mine, but you will not be able to go much above or below your limits.  Just as everyone has different physical limits, everyone has different limits to their happiness.  Some people are just happier than others and there is nothing that you can do or change to alter your happiness mean.  You are just going to be average happy and that is that.

Pros:

  • It may be more realistic to be satisfied with life as you know it.  Satisfaction and gratitude will convey a sense of happiness even if you are never the happiest person in the world.
  • You may never be exceptionally happy but you may never be exceptionally unhappy.

Cons:

  • Life may never have peak experiences for you in terms of being happy, happy, happy.

6.  Exceptional Theory of Happiness

bigstock-jumping-happy-young-man-12752945This theory views happiness as something that has no limits.  The sky is the limit.  Extraordinary happiness awaits anyone willing to go for it.  Every day will bring more and more happiness if you only believe it is possible.

Pros:

  • A joy that exceeds all others may come from feeling exceptionally happy.  The best day of your life may be one that you will remember forever.

Cons:

  • Best days are inevitably followed by worst days. Nothing stays up forever.  Or whatever goes up will go down and the further up you are the further down you will fall.

Conclusions:

You are probably thinking about now “Well, I don’t get it.”  Where is the secret that will give me perpetual ecstatic happiness?  Frankly, I have not found it.  Most of my journey through life has taught me that everything has its ups and downs.  There are no absolute truths that exist for all time.  There is no one path to happiness or samadhi.  Life is a cycle.  Today I find happiness, tomorrow my mother or best friend dies.  Can I be happy when they die?  I may not go out and commit Hari-kari, but I doubt that I will be feeling joyous for the next few weeks or perhaps even months.

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I think one mistake we make starts at the very beginning.  We assume or treat life as though it were about the pursuit of happiness.  I don’t think it is.  But I do believe we can be happy for cycles or minor periods in our life when things just seem to be going right.  My formula for achieving these brief periods of happiness is as follows:

  • Live each day the best that you can
  • Do the most that you are able to spread joy and peace in the world
  • Treat everyone you meet and know with love and respect
  • Respect yourself and your accomplishments
  • Do not look for never-ending happiness
  • Never pursue things or accomplishments as a means to happiness

Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy. — Guillaume Apollinaire

PS:

One of the comments by a reader noted the “Bluebird of Happiness.”  This reminded me of the famous song by Jan Peerce.  I had not listened to this song in ages and I just went back and listened to it.  The lyrics are wonderful and if my blog has not inspired you to “happiness” maybe the lyrics from the song will.

The Bluebird of Happinesscomposed in 1934 by Sandor Harmati, with words by Edward Heyman and additional lyrics by Harry Parr-Davies. Click the link to hear Jan Peerce sing this wonderful song. 

The beggar man and the mighty king are only different in name,
For they are treated just the same by fate.
Today a smile and tomorrow a tear, we never know what’s in store.
So learn your lesson before it is too late.

So be like I, hold your head up high ’til you find the bluebird of happiness.
You will find greater peace of mind, knowing there’s a bluebird of happiness.
And when he sings to you, though you’re deep in blue
You will see a ray of light creep through
And so remember this, life is no abyss
Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.

The poet with his pen, the peasant with his plow,
It makes no different who you are, it’s all the same somehow.
The king upon his throne, the jester at his feet,
the artist, the actress, the man on the street.

It’s a life of smiles and a life of tears It’s a life of hopes and a life of fears.
A blinding torrent of rain and a brilliant burst of sun,
A biting tearing pain and bubbling sparkling fun.
And no matter what you have, don’t envy those you meet.
It’s all the same, it’s in the game, the bitter and the sweet.

And if things don’t look so cheerful, just show a little fight.
Fore every bit of darkness, there’s a little bit of light.
For every bit of hatred, there’s a little bit of love.
Fore every cloudy morning, there’s a midnight moon above.

So don’t you forget, you must search ’til you find the bluebird.
You will find peace and contentment forever, if you will be like I.
Hold your head up high, ’til you see a ray of light appear.
And so remember this, life is no abyss
Somewhere there’s a bluebird of happiness.

Farewell to Life or Farewell to Death?

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Many years ago, I traveled down a wooded path that I had never been on before.  This story is about how that journey led me to the life that I am living today.

I was eighteen years old.  I had recently graduated from high school.  No awards, no summa anything and no college that would take me even if I had applied.  I always loved to meander in the woods and thoughts of heaven or hell were not intruding on me this bright sunny warm day in June.  As I trod a path that did not look very worn, I suddenly noticed a fork in the trail.  I could just make out somebody sitting between the two roads.  As I drew closer, it was apparent but none the less quite surprising to see that it was an old woman sitting on a log.

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“Good afternoon,” I said to the old woman.  “Same to you, young man,” she replied.  “I have not been on this road before; can you tell me which fork goes where?”  “Well,” she answered, “The right fork is the Farewell to Life fork and the left fork is the Farewell to Death fork.”  Thinking the woman was a little batty, I gave her my thanks, wished her a good day, and proceeded to take the right fork.

I thought a little about her response as I continued on my journey.  I wondered if it really meant anything.  Would one fork bring death and the other life?  I laughed as I assumed that it probably would not matter since I had chosen the life fork.  I was planning to be among the living when I reached its end and not among the dead.  I looked back and the crazy woman was nowhere in sight.

More than fifty-five years have passed since I met the old lady.  I have walked many roads, paddled many rivers, visited many lands, and wondered about the meaning and purpose of life innumerable times.  During my seventy-five years on this earth, I have said dozens of farewells to life.  All of them to date were farewells to the lives of people who were my friends and relatives and mentors.  My father died at 60.  My mother died at 67.  My sister died at 56 and my cousin and best friend died at 47.  Farewell is one of the saddest words in my vocabulary.  As I have aged, the number of farewells that I have had to say each year seems to be growing exponentially.

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A few weeks ago, I was on a solo hike in the Chequamegon National Forest about thirty miles north of Thorp, Wisconsin where my first wife was from.  I was on the Jerry Lake Segment of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail which goes through the Chequamegon National Forest.  I was intending on hiking down the trail to Jerry Lake and back.

Now I have never been known for my sense of direction.  My first wife and I always fought over which way to head but my masculine pride would never admit that she was usually right.  Marrying a second time, I finally found someone whose sense of direction is even worse than mine.  Both Karen and I are lost without a GPS or compass.  The good thing is that I now readily admit that I could get lost in my small back yard.  My masculine pride no longer prohibits me from shouting out “I’m lost.”

As I proceeded down the trail, it seemed that I was not getting any nearer to my intended destination.  It should have taken me about an hour to get to the lake and I had now been hiking for about two hours.  Two thoughts struck me at the same time.  The first was that I was lost.  The second was that I was approaching a fork in the trail ahead and something or someone was sitting between the two paths.  As I neared the fork, I rubbed my eyes just in case I was seeing things.  There on the trail ahead was an old woman who looked suspiciously like the old woman whom I had met fifty-five years before.  Of course, I thought, it could not be.  She would have to be well over a hundred years old.

senior-woman-sitting-log-holding-long-cane-senior-woman-sitting-log-holding-long-cane-countryside-village-people-131962771The strangeness of the situation caused me to be somewhat nervous about proceeding further but I thought, I have nothing to fear from an old lady.  Coming nearer to the woman, I jokingly asked if she was the same old woman whom I had met years ago and if she remembered me.  “Yes”, she said, “but you were much younger then.  How did your journey down the Farewell to Life trail go?”  How could this be I thought?  I don’t believe in magic, miracles, or spirits but suddenly, I began to take her words quite seriously.

“I am not so sure that I took the right trail.  Over the years, I have had to say many farewells to people whom I loved and who passed away long before they should have.  Life does not seem very fair to me.”  “Life is never fair,” she replied.  “Humans weigh things as though some type of cosmic scale existed, and that life could be apportioned perfectly equitably.  You have had a long life.  It has been very successful.  You have had more than your share of fame and fortune.”

“I am very confused.  I chose the Farewell to Life path but what would have happened if I had chosen the Farewell to Death path?  Would I live forever?”  She looked at me very gravely and said “I don’t think you really understand.  The Farewell to Life path is a path where you say farewell to the lives of others.  You yourself then went on to have a long if not happy or prosperous life, did you not?”

“Yes,” I said, “But what would my life have been like if I had chosen the “Farewell to Death path?”  “You would never have had to say farewell to any friends or anyone you cared about.  You would have gone to no funerals, burials, or memorials.  No farewells to the deaths of friends and families.  You would have died many years before those you loved.  Do you think this would have made you happier?  A short life that would have had little tragedy or reason to mourn would have been your legacy.”

“I do not think that would have made me happier.  Why can’t there be a third path in life?  Why are we doomed to either a long life with much unhappiness or a short life where we never experience the joys of getting older and wiser?”

The old woman slowly stood up.  She picked up a hiking stick and proceeded to walk off into the distance.  Before she left, she turned and looked into my eyes.  Very solemnly she explained, “I told you that life is never fair.  Humans always want what cannot be.  Farewell.”

Let life be beautiful like summer flowers and death like autumn leaves. — Rabindranath Tagore

 

The Fear of Aging or the Aging of Fear

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Have you noticed that some of your friends are less bold than they used to be?  The older people get, the more things they seem to be afraid of.  Some people are afraid of aging, but many more people exhibit what I call the “Aging of Fear.”  Wise people tell us that fear is natural and healthy, but it can also be unnatural and unhealthy.  The healthiness of fear depends on two things.

First, how realistic are your fears?  The reality of fear can be thought of as a form of risk analysis.  We all conduct our lives with an intuitive analysis of the risks that our behaviors either entail or might entail.  Frequently, these risks are distorted by emotions and perceptions.  If I live in Wisconsin, I should be more worried about bee stings or a tick bite than a shark attack or a tiger eating me.  It would be unrealistic to worry about things that are less likely to happen.  Surprisingly, many people are more afraid of things that have a low-risk potential than things that have a higher risk potential.  (What’s the Risk?)

bearsafety_3_1Second, what are you going to do about your fears?  Fear is an adaptive mechanism.  It helps to keep you alive.  If you are in the woods and walking down a trail and see a large bear or cougar coming towards you, it is quite healthy to have some degree of fear.  But fear alone is not going to save your life.  If you are paralyzed with fear you may just be eaten.  Fear is an alarm.  An alarm sounds to wake us up.  The next step is to do something.  Doing something is a risky effort with no guarantee of success.  Sadly, there are few guaranties in life, but the evidence seems to suggest that doing nothing is worse than doing something.  This is where forethought and preparedness come in.  One of my favorite quotes is by the Roman philosopher Seneca (died 65 CE) who once said that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

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People who think ahead and try to identify potential negative consequences of their actions have a better chance of survival than people who do not plan ahead.  The Titanic is a great example of poor planning brought on by hubris.  They were so confident that the spotter in the Crows Nest did not even have a pair of binoculars.  In chess, a good player looks at lines of play to see what might happen given any particular move on their part.  Strategic thinking entails looking into the future to see how our behaviors or actions will play out.  If I do this, what might happen?  The more we look into the future the greater the odds become in our favor for getting the results we want.  It is of course impossible to identify every conceivable consequence either intended or not of our actions.  Life is frequently about dealing with unintended consequences but there is little doubt that the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” has a lot going for it.

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The “Aging of Fear” is what I see in so many people who grow more and more afraid of life with each passing day.  I have friends who will not travel anymore.  Some of my friends are afraid to travel by plane.  Some have purchased concealed carry permits to protect themselves against an unknown assailant.  Every day more and more people in America seem afraid of something.  There are efforts to protect ourselves as we get older that make sense.  I have given up motorcycling.  Most of the people I used to ride with have also given the hobby up.  Falling off a motorcycle at the age of 75 or older will likely bring many more injuries to the human body than falling off the same motorcycle at the age of 25.  Anybody over sixty getting up on a roof in winter needs to have their head examined.  Older bodies are not as resilient as younger bodies.

Knowing when to hold them and when to fold them is one of the secrets of growing older gracefully and living a long and healthy life.  But planning for unintended consequences is equally as important.  There is a balance here that we need to find, adjust, and continually readjust as we get older.  It is a not a static effort that you do today and that is the end of it.  Each day requires rethinking and readjusting what we can do and what we should do.  The conscious reflective activity is crucial.  Without an intelligent appraisal of life, fear can put us in an early coffin.

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The coffin might be our bed or our home or our neighborhood.  A coffin is a metaphor for a set of boundaries.  The realism of our boundaries is vital.  Too many boundaries and we are not living but too few and our lives can be cut short much sooner than then they need to be.  One of my favorite motorcycle aphorisms was “If I ride like there is no tomorrow, there won’t be.”  I would tell myself this each time I got in the saddle of my Yamaha Super Sport R1 and went for a ride.

downloadDylan Thomas said, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” I don’t know about the raging part of his poem.  I prefer thinking about my life as I get older and not raging.  But he makes a good point.  It is all too easy to give up on life as we age.  We can live in memories of what we used to do, or we can find new activities and new levels to pursue old activities at.  For instance, I may not have the stamina to play tennis or racquet ball anymore, but I can still play pickleball or go for a short ride on my bicycle.  I used to do six-minute miles in road races.  My personal best was 38.48 on a 10K.  The race I ran for Frederic Family days this year on June 12, 2021, I averaged 10.14 per mile for a 5k.  Quite a bit off of my pace from years ago but I still got my t-shirt.  I run for t-shirts these days and not trophies.

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To conclude.  Don’t let aging or fear rob you of living.  Well thought out days with lots of contingency plans can help you to continue to live a full and happy life.  Look around you for the 80, 90 and even 100-year-old elders who are still out there enjoying life.  What keeps them ticking is not giving up but meeting each day as a challenge to live life to the fullest.

Rhythm and Writing:  The Beat of Life

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Allegro:  a brisk lively tempo

What does the beating of my heart have to do with my writing?  What does writing have to do with making love?  Can the changing of the seasons be compared to a concert overture?  What is the relationship between T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets 2: East Coker” poem and Stravinsky’s “The Rites of Spring?”  What does musical rhythm have to do with writing?

unnamedOn some primal level, we all live by an unseen law of rhythm.  The rhythm of the universe controls an eternal dance between the atoms and molecules that make up our existence.  This natural rhythm imparts an inexorable symmetry to all of life.  A regulated succession of strong and weak elements of opposite and contrasting conditions that becomes the master of all that we do.  Buddhists call it the Yin and Yang of being.

Springtime is upon us.

The birds celebrate her return with festive song,

and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.

Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,

Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.  — (From Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons:  Spring”, Concerto in E Major) 

DrumsticksIn countless ways, we observe that there is fundamentally no difference between writing or between a piece of choreography and the changing climate.  Creativity is carved out of the passion that is in everything we do.  The body and mind embrace in a never-ending minuet.  The music ebbs and flows.  Our love is gentle, restrained, then wild and feral. Mornings, afternoons, evenings, and nights fuse with the seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter.  The harsh gales of November resonate in the refrains of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.  “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts ushers in the scorching days of July.  Poetry rings out in the rap music of the streets while the mellow voices of choir singers comfort the soul.  All things are one say the mystics.  If my writing is one with all things, will the tempo of my words cool, heat, soothe or disrupt the fashions of life?

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Adagio: a slow and stately tempo

Far be it for me to confuse philosophy with art.  Greater men than I have acknowledged that there is a unity to life.  We travel down our different paths often blind to the journeys of others who walk side by side with us.  This one a carpenter, this one a computer scientist, this one a teacher, this one an artist and this one a hero.  Some of us have a long journey and some of us have a short journey.  For some the journey is rough and chaotic and for others the journey is smooth and predictable.  There are slow times in our journeys and there are fast times.  The rhythm of life is never the same for any of us.

Oh, it’s the same as the emotion that I get from you

You got the kind of lovin’ that can be so smooth, yeah

Give me your heart, make it real, or else forget about it — (From “Smooth”, by Santana)

For some, life is poverty and for others it is uncountable wealth.  The rich man longs for the anonymity and slower days of the poor man.  The poor man can be heard singing, “If I were a rich man, lord who made the lion and the lamb, would it really spoil your cosmic plan if I were a wealthy man?”

9781780231075We are all dust in the wind but our rhythms echo through the halls of time.  The most unforgettable and amazing repetitions will continue as long as humans walk the earth.  Coded in the numerous ways we have of capturing the rhythm of our lives.  Some codes in music, some in text and some in clay.  Some dynamic, some peaceful, some violent and some sad.  We write our lyrics, pen our verses, create our stanzas, and design our choreography.  All efforts guided by the unseen law of rhythm.  Now we are hard, now we are brittle.  Now we roar and now we snore.

Scherzo:  a sprightly humorous movement commonly in quick triple time

Love is kind, love is considerate, love is not selfish. The waltz was a creation of times when love was more restrained.  Centuries of constrained love making has been supplanted, extending our beings, becoming our challenge.  The Tango alternates patterns of space and closeness with syncopated rhythms of violence and passion.  Love me tender, love me sweet, never let me go.  Rock and Roll ushered in a wild abandonment of morality to a tune of conspicuous sexuality.  The rhythm of music exhibits striking harmonies with the rhythm of our love lives.  Can I be soft and gentle like a warm breeze but also wild and unrestrained like in the pulp novels?  Shall I make love to the William Tell overture or would Shakira’s lyrics work better?

Baby I would climb the Andes solely 

To count the freckles on your body 

Never could imagine there were only

Too many ways to love somebody  — (From “Whenever, Wherever,” by Shakira)

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Should my love making follow a classical structure or should it be more jazz like?  Is it enough to alternate patterns of tenderness with patterns of spontaneity or should I begin with an allegro, then an adagio, followed by a scherzo and conclude with a rondo?  And what of those who expect love to end with a crescendo or those who enjoy more syncopated jazz?

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Rondo: a recurring leading theme often found in the final movement of a sonata

Whether goes my writing.  I have written this concerto to writing in four parts to reflect the universality of the rhythm of life.  We form, norm, storm and then perform.  Spring is the opening that brings fresh growth to our world before the bloom of summer.  Summer brings the maturity and ripeness of life.  Fall brings the storms and winds that signify our frailty and insignificance to the universe.  Winter ends our symphony with the closure and solace that our work is done, and our day is over.

Blog+Image+-++Seasonal+RhythmsThe rhythm of life runs through our heart beats.  It runs through literature.  It runs through music.  Great music has rhythms that exhibit great variation.  Fast, slow, moderate than fast again.  Interesting speakers have a sense of rhythm in their talks.  Have you ever heard a lecture or a sermon without rhythm?  It will put you to sleep in less than five minutes.  Writing and speaking, just like music, must contain elements of rhythm.  A heart without rhythm ceases to beat.  Writing without rhythm is boring.  Life without rhythm is death.

To feel the rhythm of life,

To feel the powerful beat,

To feel the tingle in your fingers,

To feel the tingle in your feet. — (From “Rhythm Of Life,” 1969 Motion Picture Soundtrack, Song by Sammy Davis Jr.)

Our work, our art, our thoughts, and our lives are concluded with a hope to be reborn again.  We wish that someone will see the need to resume the rhythms that we have started.  Never a finality to our rhythms.  Only a continuation that started before us and will continue long after our memorials are put up.  Your headstone may simply have one verse on it or possibly it will be like the newest greeting cards.  They will walk up to your grave and press a button.  You will appear with a menu of options, and your visitor can select a video of you either singing or dancing or perhaps reading one of your writings.  Everything will have a four-part harmony.

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Time For Questions:  

Does music teach you anything about writing?  Does music speak to you?  Can writing be like a symphony?  How do you hear music?  Does it speak to you like a good poem or a good verse? What is your favorite kind of writing?  Do you ever think that the writing you enjoy could be like music?  What would it take to transform the music in your life into writing or the writing in your life into music?

Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think

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I have put together a selection of short stories that I have published over the years on my blog.  I thought it would be nice to have them all in one place.  If you have enjoyed any of my tales, I think that you will enjoy this book.  It contains 25 of my favorites pieces of writing. 

 

The fables in this book are unique and cover a wide range of topics.  It is a book of make believe that is designed to challenge the way that you look at life.  Some of these stories are Aesop like, and some are Mark Twain like.  Some of them will make you laugh.  Some will make you cry.  Some contain morals and parables that may help you think differently about your life and the world.

 

 Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think    Kindle Edition

by John Persico (Author), Socorro Luna (Editor) — Feb, 9, 2021, Kindle Edition, $4.99

 

If you prefer a paperback edition, it is available at the following link for $9.99

Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Music

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What would life be without the things that help us to appreciate it?  I listen to a superb singer and think how fantastic it is to be able to have this kind of talent in the world.  I visit an art gallery and look at the magnificent paintings and think about all the people that have created works of art which beautify my life.  I journey to a library to find a good book to read and I am inundated with literature that will open vast new horizons for me intellectually and emotionally.  I am sometimes ashamed that I am not grateful enough for the many appreciations that life gives me.

I started thinking a few days ago that the issue of appreciation would make a good subject for a blog.  I soon realized that the subject would be good for several blogs.  Thus, I have decided to write about the greatest appreciations in my life.  Of course, life itself is a given as the greatest appreciation of all, so I will skip it for now.  There are hundreds of things that I can appreciate.  I will limit my list to the top seven things that I am grateful for or that I appreciate on an almost daily basis.  I will try cover each of these in my next blogs.

  1. Music
  2. Art
  3. Literature
  4. Travel/Food
  5. Friends/Family
  6. Health/Fitness
  7. Peace

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Music:  Something to Appreciate

This week I will discuss the joys and happiness that I find in music.  Karen, my wife is a musician.  I am unfortunately not among the musically gifted.  I am left to be the audience for Karen and other people with the talent to perform.  I have hundreds of artists all over the world that I admire and listen to.  Many people have a steady diet of music from a particular genre.  I consider myself fortunate to have quite catholic tastes when it comes to music.

I love opera, country, blue grass, gospel, classical, rock, pop, blues, jazz, folk, as well as music from almost every country in the world.  Have you ever listened to Enka music from Japan or Fado music from Portugal?  There are hundreds of styles of music all over the world.  Increasingly I find what might be called fusion music that blends a multitude of styles.

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One currently popular group is called the Hu.  They are a rock band from Mongolia.  They use traditional Mongolian instrumentation, including the Morin khuur, Tovshuur and Mongolian throat singing with a rock beat.  They say that they are inspired by the Hunnu, an ancient Turkic/Mongol empire.  I discovered them on YouTube and liked them so much I purchased one of their albums.  I listened to it every day for a few weeks.  I had never heard anything like it before.

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Yesterday on NPR they had a music session with the noted African American operatic baritone Will Liverman.   It was an interesting conversation.   There has been a systematic exclusion of information concerning Black singers and composers in the realm of classical music.  Mr.  Liverman talked about his upbringing and how surprised his parents were that he became interested in opera and classical music.  He pursued his interests and has become one of the great operatic singers of our time.  Will observed that many great Black composers were virtually unknown to the public and even in the music world.  He decided to remedy this with an album of songs by Black composers.  You can find his album on Amazon and many of Mr. Liverman’s songs on YouTube.

The music world is full of variety, mysteries, contradictions, challenges, and respite from a world all too often full of dreary news and mayhem.  I have briefly touched on some of the variety in the music world, but what are the mysteries?  Well consider the talent that it takes to become a good musician.  Many people think that musicians are simply born with the talent.  A little knowledge of musicians will soon show you that music is a combination of talent and hard work.  Few of us will ever know if we could have been a great musician because most of us do not have the discipline to put the effort into music.  This includes me as well.  I am amazed at the practicing that Karen does each week.

Karen performing with the Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble

Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble Visits The Fountains – The Fountains at La Cholla in Tucson, AZ

Karen has taken dozens of classes to help develop her skills.  There never seems to be a time when she will simply quit and say, “I have become good enough.”  She is always working and striving to become better.  Every year she develops more skills and then challenges herself with more difficult pieces, not to mention adding more instruments to her repertoire.  And here is the mystery.  Where do these people get the energy and courage to keep on challenging themselves?  Most of us would rather listen to music.  We marvel at the fantastic talent that is in the music world, but we seldom understand the practice, discipline and hard work that is involved.  I gasp in amazement at a man like Jake Shimabukuro whose fingers move over the ukulele faster than I can see.  I cannot comprehend pianists that can play an entire Beethoven symphony without looking at a music sheet.  These are all mysteries to me.

What of contradictions?  The music world is full of contradictions.  Talented players and singers who never seem to achieve the stardom they deserve.  One-hit-wonders who can create a dynamic song that tops the charts but are never heard from again.  Five-year-old wunderkinds who display abilities that defy logic.  Singers who develop followers that worship the ground they walk on.  Performers who last a few years, disappear for many years, and then make startling comebacks.  Singers who are still in the music business in their eighties.  Artists who seem to have little talent but make tons of money.  The music world is full of contradictions.

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What of the challenges I refer to?  For a musician, the world is one giant challenge.  Can you imagine getting up in front of 100,000 people or more to sing the national anthem?   Can you imagine facing the expectations of an audience that has paid a minimum of 100 dollars a seat to hear you perform and some may have paid thousands to hear you perform?  Could you handle the pressure?  Can you imagine a road tour?  Leaving your home for a year to travel the world and play in dozens of different venues in front of many different audiences.  I get anxious not sleeping in my own bed for one night.  I think the challenges also show up in the chaotic drug filled life that we often see in some musicians.  Stars like Elvis, Michael Jackson, Prince, and hundreds of other great musicians who met an early and untimely death.  Is it any wonder?  The challenges may be too much for anyone.

Finally for me, the respite that music brings to my life could not be purchased for a million dollars.  It is said that “Music soothes the savage beast.”  Music takes the stress out of my life.  Music is like meditating.  It is often better than eating or sleeping.  I can watch an Andrea Bocelli performance, and everything is okay with the world.  Music helps me to forget the vicious daily news, the angry divisive politicians insulting each other, the legal eagles trying to entice me to sue someone, the maniacs on the road in a hurry to go nowhere.  I can forget the dreams I had that never materialized as I listen to Rhiannon Giddens sing, “Wayfaring Stranger” or Miley Cyrus sing, “A Man of Constant Sorrow” or Bob Dylan sing, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”

I fear I have not even begun to explain the joys, beauty and wonders that music can bring into our lives.  The subject is so deep and wide, that my short missive here does not even begin to do it justice.  My goal is to inspire and entice you to find more time for music in your life.  It is truly one of the great appreciations that life brings us.  Sean Combs said that “A life without passion is unforgivable.”  It is even truer that a “life without music is a terrible shame.’

Next week I will talk about Art and what it can do to help us appreciate life more.

 

Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars – Part 1 of 2

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Why do some people achieve success and happiness while other people flounder on the shoals?  One man/woman becomes Prime Minister or President and their brother/sister becomes a drug addict.  I suppose there are many reasons and many that we can probably do nothing about.  Some things are beyond our power to change.  However, there is one reason that contributes to success and it is in our power to modify or amplify.  I speak specifically of the ideas or concepts in the title of this blog:  Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars.

In 1983, I joined the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).  I was still in graduate school working on my degree in Organization Development and it seemed useful to join a professional organization that represented my career goals.  As a member of the ASTD, I attended monthly meetings and eventually submitted several articles to their magazine for publication.  One of the most interesting projects I volunteered for was to help establish a “Mentoring Program” for young upcoming professionals in the field of Training and Organization Development.  This project together with a Human Resource Development organization that I started for students at the University of Minnesota were some of the high points of my academic career.  Grades did not count for much to me except to get credits that were needed to graduate.  Helping people was truly gratifying.

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Mentors:

A “Mentor” can be defined as: “A trusted advisor.”  Someone with more experience who knows the ropes and takes a less experienced person under their wings to help guide them through the Scylla and Charybdis that are lurking in most organizations.  This can make the difference between success and failure.  I have found myself over my head several times because of not properly understanding a new boss or company politics.  downloadOnce, as a new employee, I was attending my first department meeting with my co-workers and supervisor.  I deemed it prudent to keep my mouth shut and observe.  At the end of the meeting, my supervisor turned to me and noted, “Well, John, you haven’t said a word.  What do you think?  Give me your honest opinion.”  I took her at her word and gave her my honest uncensored opinion.  Big mistake, as I am sure you knew.  Turns out my boss only liked “Honest Opinions” when they agreed with her opinions.  A good mentor would have warned me of this peril before I put my foot in my mouth.

A good mentor can do a great deal more than simply alert you to pitfalls.  A mentor may share information about his or her own career path and what helped him/her to become successful.  A mentor can provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and coaching.  A mentor may help with setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources that will help you to get ahead.  I personally believe everyone should have a mentor.  In addition to career mentors, there are mentors who may help you with your hobbies or any other activities that add value to your life.  Having a mentor is not all about careers and jobs.

How does one find a mentor?  Some organizations have mentoring programs and match up new employees with seasoned veterans.  A friend of mine at the ASTD and I worked together on the aforementioned mentoring program.  We put together guidelines to help companies establish their own in-house mentoring programs.  I was quite surprised and pleased when at an ASTD awards banquet, we were acknowledged for the mentoring program that we had developed.

Mentors can be formal or informal.  In 1998, I was “adopted’ by an older gentleman named Gordon Backlund when I started working at the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota.  He came up to me after a meeting and announced “I see you know nothing about politics in a government organization.  I am going to teach you.”  I was grateful for his offer.  Gordy taught me a bunch about how to survive and we became good friends in the process.  He was an informal mentor since the organization did not have a formal mentoring program.  It would be great if every organization had a program, but most do not.  In the latter case, it is up to you to find a mentor.  If you care about your success in life as well as in business, you will find a mentor or mentors.  The following is a particularly good video with some tips on “how to find a mentor.”  There are many other good videos on the subject and even some good TED talks on the topic.

Here is a great video on how to find a mentor by Marie Forleo

 

Muses:

A muse in ancient Greece was the name for the nine goddesses who presided over the arts and science.   A muse for me is someone who inspires me.  Since I think of myself as a writer, a muse is someone who can inspire my writing.  A muse indirectly motivates imagesme by giving me support and stimulation to be creative.  I was thinking back over the years that I have been writing.  My first paid article was in 1983.  It was published in a San Francisco Men’s Journal.  My piece was called “The Three Types of Male Intimacy.”  I was paid about 25 dollars.  It was not much but it felt like a start.  I have since published about 40 journal articles, three books and over 600 blogs.  It is a good thing that I never quit my day job since I could barely pay my monthly entertainment bill with the proceeds from my writing.

In 2010, I met Dr. Carolyn Wedin.  She was a retired English Professor Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin.  She had started a writing class in Frederic, Wisconsin.  I joined the class and thus began my honest efforts to become a writer.  I say honest, because until then I had not engaged in professional efforts to improve my writing skills.  Anyone who says that they are a writer, artist, singer, sculptor, musician, or chef and does not engage in some form of professional development is in my humble opinion, not serious about their craft.

My partner Karen has played the piano since she was a little girl.  She plays well enough to be asked to play both piano and organ at church when the regular pianist is out sick or on vacation.  About 15 years ago, we were visiting in Mountain View, Arkansas when Karen noticed someone on the “Pickin Parlor Green” playing a small acoustic wooden lap instrument.  She enjoyed the sound and also thought how easy it would be to pack up and carry such an instrument.  Pianos and organs do not lend themselves to easy carry or transport.  She inquired as to what the instrument was and was told that it was a Mountain Dulcimer, also known as an Appalachian Dulcimer.  Deciding to try one out, she purchased an inexpensive dulcimer on eBay for about 100 dollars.

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Karen tried playing it for a while on her own.  She purchased some instruction books and starting plinking away.  Not having much success, she came to the conclusion that she needed instruction.  She found a good instructor and continued with her until we retired.  We then moved to Wisconsin and Arizona.  Nevertheless, other dulcimer lessons have continued for many years.  We go to at least two music camps each year.  One is in Mountain View, Arkansas and the other is in Bardstown, Kentucky.  We often attend the Minnesota Blue Grass and Old Time Music Association (MBOTMA) summer festival where they offer classes and practice in a variety of instruments.  There is also lots of practice time in what are known as music jams.  These jams are events where musicians self-organize into groups with many different skill levels.  There will be people playing guitars, violins, mandolins, banjos, dulcimers, harps, and numerous other string instruments.

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For several years, Karen was tentative before venturing out into her first music jams.  There is a definite etiquette that one must learn before joining a jam session.  Karen soon found a group of women in Tucson who were called “The Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble (TDE).”  They practice every two weeks and do a few performances each year.  The sessions they hold are both training and practice with a good dose of inspiration thrown in.  Karen has become more confident since playing with the TDE and is now a good enough player to be asked to do solo performances.  Where once she dreaded the thought of playing solo, she now looks forward to the challenge and I suspect, the applause.

But what of a muse?  Do we really need one?  Who was or is my muse for writing?  This past year Dr. Wedin had a series of illnesses and accidents rendering her unable to continue the “Write Right Now” classes that she had started.  Some of her students who have attended them for many years volunteered to take over, but it was not the same.  It is hard to describe Carolyn’s style of encouragement and critique, but I venture to say it is unique.  She inspires without criticizing.  She encourages without demoralizing.  She suggests without demanding.  When you have finished a session with Dr. Wedin, you have new ideas and a renewed motivation to go home and write.

Perspiration or Inspiration: Which is more Important to the Writer? —-A blog I wrote a while ago

 

Missing Carolyn and her inspiration, I went into a downward spiral.  I considered giving up writing.  I had said it all.  There was nothing else left to write about.  I had exhausted all my ideas and creativity.  I was finished.  I was kaput.  My writing days were over.  That was when I realized that Carolyn had been my muse.  She was my inspiration for what I think of as my writing in Creative Non-Fiction.  Part of me knew that Carolyn could not continue teaching.  No one lives forever and all things eventually change.  The Covid-19 Virus will probably put the finishing touches on the writer’s class for this summer: “Oh, what will I do?”

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I only know I must be brave,

And I must face a life that dates me,

Or lie a coward, a craven coward,

Or lie a coward in my grave.” 

 (A slight modification from “High Noon” by Frankie Laine)

Taking advice from this old Frankie Laine song, I must find a new muse.  We all need a “little help from our friends” or someone who can guide and inspire us.  They say that the truth will set you free.  I know not about the truth, but I do know that when we understand something it gives us the freedom to make good decisions and choices.  Since I realize how important a muse is to my writing, I must decide how to find my next muse.

Looking at an obvious source for a muse, i.e., the Internet, one finds that most topics treat the subject as an exercise in finding your personal creativity either by looking inward or by researching a range of resources including classes and educational activities.  Searching Google for help in finding an actual real person as a muse, I did not find anything especially useful.  I did find numerous articles like:

  • How to Awaken Your Muse to Spark Your Creativity
  • Learning how to find your inner muse
  • 7 Tips to Awaken Your Creative Muse – Can-do-ideas

By the way, I got the same results on “YouTube” but I did find an interesting song by Them Coulee Boys called “Find Your Muse.”

I don’t want to find my “inner” creativity.  I want to find a real person like Dr. Wedin, who can inspire and challenge me.  Telling me to find my inner muse is similar to telling an athlete to find their “inner coach.”  This is a great idea up to a point, but I am sure that most musicians, athletes, and other artists would much rather find another human being as a coach or mentor.  It is wonderful to be able to talk to someone who has a different perspective and who can talk back.

The search for a muse does not have a single starting point or a definite ending point.  Much like mentors, muses will come and go in the life of an artist. The quest for a muse is like looking for the love of your life.  They may be just around the corner or they may be on another continent.  The one thing I am sure of is that unless you are seeking, you will probably not find one.  There is a Zen saying that goes like this, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I have a feeling that the same is true for finding a muse.  When you are ready, your muse will appear.  But being ready means having your eyes and ears and heart open.  That is what seeking is all about.

In Part 2, I will describe how a Role Model and a Shooting Star can help you in life as well as in your career. 

Joy and Sorrow

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Joy and sorrow are the Yin and Yang of existence.  One day we find joy and the next day we find sorrow. 

I found joy when my first daughter was born.  She was premature by a few weeks and so we could not take her home right away.  It was in 1967 and I was in the birthing room with my ex-wife Julie when Christina was born.  Both of us could not have been happier.  Over the years, I found joy in spending time with my daughter, taking her to the library, racing her on her bicycle, going to the boundary waters with her and taking her out trick or treating on Halloween.  I found joy watching her grow up.

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I found sorrow when my first wife and I separated in 1982 and I had to leave my daughter behind.  I found sorrow when my daughter Christina started college and decided she did not want to talk to me anymore.  I have found sorrow for the past 30 years or so at no longer seeing my daughter or even knowing where she lives.  I find sorrow that she never calls me or cares about having anything to do with me.

I find joy with my wife Karen when we sit and talk and eat together, now for nearly 40 years.  I find joy when Karen is happy, and we exercise or travel or go for walks together.  I find joy in helping her to stay healthy and knowing that she appreciates my efforts.  I find joy in growing old together and watching us both develop wrinkles together and claim similar aches and pains.  Our companionship is one of the greatest joys of my life.

I find sorrow when I think too long about what is too come.  I have seen too many elderly couples decline and it is often a sad sight.  I find sorrow when I think that in not too many years, Karen or I could be facing our final years by ourselves.  I find sorrow in thinking too much about what might be and how it might happen.

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I find joy in my writing.  I love the process of putting ideas into words.  I love getting comments on my blog and I love seeing the Google analytics regarding how many people are reading my rants and thoughts.  I love responding to people who leave comments.  I love the task of finding new ideas and themes to write about.  I love the community that I often find with other writers.  Something about the very word itself though unspoken is beautiful and magic.

I find sorrow in running out of new ideas and the occasional barren oasis that seems to sit in front of me as I struggle to find something to write about.  I find sorrow in feeling that I am not making any difference in the world with my writing.  I find sorrow when I compare my stats to others and think that some people get more readers in a day than I get in a month.  I know I should not compare myself, but I do anyway, and it always makes me sad.

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I found joy in getting to make amends with my father and mother before they died.  He died at 60 years of age and my mother died at 67.  I had hated my father and I was apathetic towards my mother.  I found joy in knowing my mother better and understanding the demons that she had to deal with.  I found joy in confronting my father and having him apologize to me for the misery that he caused my sisters and I when we were growing up.  I spoke at his funeral and found joy in the words I gave because I told truth.  My father had changed before he died, and I could see that in his friends and his new family.

I found sorrow when I was growing up with my family.  Hardly a day went by when I was not tormented or blamed for something by my father.  I found sorrow because my sisters and I were isolated and could not even find support in each other.  I found sorrow in my life as I felt so alone.  Later when I heard the song “Motherless Child”, I knew I was that motherless child.  A counselor years later told me it was because children expect their mothers to protect them.  I found sorrow in that it was not until my mother died that I realized how much misery she had in her own life while living with my father.  She had little time or energy to protect her children.  All of whom were abused by my father.

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I find joy in nature.  I run, ski, bike, swim canoe, camp and love being outside.  I find joy in the forests, in the lakes, in the ocean and in the mountains.  I find joy in flowers and watching the trees bloom and the leaves turn colors in the fall.  I feel joy in staring at a moonlit sky and looking for falling stars, constellations, and comets.  I find joy in sunshine and a cloudless day, but I also find joy on a rainy day with clouds billowing and promises of storms to come.

I feel sorrow when I see a tree hacked down or a lake defiled with oil and garbage.  I look at the sky and feel sad that we put up so much junk in the air that people are choking, and asthma has become common.  I find sorrow in the polluted oceans and in manicured lawns where water is wasted growing grass that has no reason for being there.  I feel sorrow that we put development over nature and destroy vast acres of beautiful land to put up parking lots.

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I receive joy from my exercising.  I love the feel of the mountain runs that I do each morning.  I love the stretch from yoga each evening.  My body feels so alive when it is moving.  I have done scuba diving, skydiving, bike racing, marathons and two triathlons.  I have never been a major competitor but the joy and fun of racing with others is indescribable.  The joy of being one big family even if only for a few hours.  Celebrating life and the ability we have as athletes.  No one regardless of how they do or how late they finish is ever ridiculed or laughed at.

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I receive sorrow and pain from exercising.  Some days it is hard to get up and go out.  Some days I feel sad wondering when my last run will be, and when I will no longer be able to handle the inevitable falls on the trails.  I have had sorrow from Morton’s neuroma, plantar fasciitis, back pains, hip pains and sesamoiditis.  Some of these problems have taken me years to overcome and some I have had to adapt to and live with.  I have sat for hours and picked cactus spines out of my legs and feet and arms.  There might not be a great deal of sorrow in this activity but there is a great deal of pain.  I think sadly of some of the longer runs I once did and some of the longer bicycle trips I once took and some of the week long canoe trips.  I know that I no longer have the energy for any such trips.  They are now sadly only memories that are slowly fading away.

My greatest joy in life has come from reading and learning.  I would rather die than not have a book to read or the chance to learn something new.  The joy I find in books is ineffable.  I want to learn the rest of my life and continue to find new things that will excite me.  I find joy in challenges to my ideas and beliefs.  I find joy in discovering that I was right, and I find joy in discovering that I was wrong.  Books have always been dearer to me than friendships.  Books bring me to places that I have never been.  Books help me to meet people that I can only dream of meeting.  Books do not desert me at 3 PM in the morning or chastise me for putting them down.  I find joy in history, science, mathematics, politics, psychology, spirituality, biographies, dramas and plays.  Books were my companions when I grew up and they were my family.  Books gave me unconditional love and were my steadfast friends.

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Books have brought me great sorrow.  I read the Little Match Girl a dozen times or more and each time I cried when I read this story.  Countless other stories and events have 83909b1f6d72b56470333621cbd1ebf2-the-little-match-girl-hans-christianbrought sorrow to my heart over the years.  Life does not always end happily.  Lives do not always find the justice and honor they merit.  I have felt sorry for the heroes and heroines who did not get the fates they deserved.  If only I could somehow right all the wrongs and set history on the paths it should have taken.  I find books tell me about my shortcomings and highlight areas where I need improvement.  It is always sorrowful to find that I am not as good as I would like to be.

Writing this has been cathartic.  For me, the writing itself is mixed with elements of joy and elements of sorrow.  So joyful to remember some things.  Remembering others so very sorrowful.  Some remind me of the joy still in my life.  Some sorrows make me want to live my life over.  But would it be any different?   Would it be any better?

What are the joys and sorrows in your life?

The Three Boxes of Life:  What Does the Coronavirus Have to Do with Them?

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In 1970, Richard Nelson Bolles wrote what was destined to become one of the most famous and useful books of all time.  Richard Nelson Bolles was an Episcopal clergyman and the author of the best-selling job-hunting book, What Color is Your Parachute?  It became an international best seller and was widely adopted for use by job seekers, employment counselors, human resource development people and educators.  It has been in print since 1970 and has been revised annually since 1975, sometimes substantially.

Bolles-AZ QuotesOstensibly, it was just another book to help job seekers find work.  However, Bolles wrote more than just tips on writing resumes and job letters and where to find work, he wrote a bible on how to live a better life and what work could really mean for us.   Bolles gave us a broader vision of work and the role it could play in our lives.  Bolles vision of work was more than just the idea of productivity and pay.  At the core of Richard’s concept of life was his idea that life could be divided into three boxes:  Work, Play and Education.  But there is a novel twist to Bolle’s ideas about work, play and education that no one had ever put forward before.  Before we go into his unique idea, let’s examine each of the three boxes.  After this, I will present the truly revolutionary idea that Bolles had about them.  Finally, I will discuss the implications of Bolles ideas to the present coronavirus crisis that we are facing today throughout the world.

Work:

For most people work involves making a living.  Bringing home a paycheck to pay the bills.  For Bolles, work meant passion and purpose and meaning.  Work could be so much more than just a 9 to 5 grind.  However, before this could happen, the job seeker must fully understand their life, loves, passions and goals.  Bolle’s book was designed to help the job seeker undertake these tasks.  Armed with this information, a job seeker could look for work that provided meaning and purpose to his/her life.  Work would not just be 9 to 5 and go home and relax.  Work could be exciting and challenging.

Education:

We typically go to school from first grade to perhaps college or grad school and then education for the most part ends.  We might join a company that provides some job-related education or tuition reimbursement for work related training.  Typically though, after you are out of school, you are on your own for education and training.   No workplace that I have experienced practices or believes in the need for life-long education and training for their employees.  Dr. W. E. Deming (who was a mentor for the company I joined after finishing my Ph.D. degree in Training and Organization Development) created his famous 14 Points for Management in which two of his 14 points addressed this issue directly:

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Point 6:  Institute training on the job.  Dr. Deming believed that continuous training was needed by all employees if continuous improvement was to become the norm in a workplace.  Training was job specific and job related although it could also involve things like cross training or training for a new job or new tasks.

“People are part of the system; they need help… Many people think of machinery and data processing when I mention system. Few of them know that recruitment, training, supervision, and aids to production workers are part of the system.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

Point 13:  Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.  Dr. Deming was a visionary like Bolles.  He believed that education for all employees was an ongoing part of any job.  Education went beyond job specific tasks to include life skills, human relations skills and skills for happiness and creativity.  Many employers are willing to adopt Dr. Deming’s Point 4 but are much more reluctant to embrace his Point 13.

“What an organization needs is not just good people; it needs people who are improving with education… There is no shortage of good people… Shortage exists at the high levels of knowledge—and this is true in every field… One should not wait for a promise of reimbursement for a course of study… Moreover, study directed toward immediate need may not be the wisest course… Advances in competitive position will have their roots in knowledge.” — Dr. W. E. Deming, Out of the Crisis

I have written quite a few of my blogs on the issue of education.  Simply type “education” in the search box and you can see some of my ideas on what a life-long education system could look like.  Many of my ideas have roots going back to Ivan Ilych, Paulo Freire and John Holt, however Dr. Deming and Richard Bolles also played a significant role in the formation of my ideas.

Play:

Now here is where it gets really interesting.  How many employers do you know that want you to play at work or to have fun while on the job?  Save it for vacation time, right?  Or as one oft heard idiotic comment goes “We work hard and play hard!”  Sorry, but play should not be hard.  Play should be fun.  Play should not encompass meaning or purpose.  Play is about being and not doing.  It is about enjoying the moment and living simply for the present.  We play when we get home from work with our spouses or with our kids, but work is reserved for productivity.  Get the job done and play later say most employers.

Bolles Revolutionary Idea:

What if we combined work, education and play?  One day when I was doing some training in Deming’s 14 points with about 20 hard rock miners down about 2000 feet below ground.  I was in one of the training rooms in INCO’s Thompson Nickel mine in Thompson, Manitoba.  I always liked teaching on site with workers since if they did not understand a concept, we could go right out into the work area and I could show them how the idea applied.  This was not simply theory, but real-world experience coupled with theory.  Dr. Deming always said that “Experience without theory teaches nothing.”  My corollary to Deming’s point was that “Theory without experience teaches nothing.”  Thus, I strove to integrate theory and experience in all my teaching and training.

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On this particular day, we were in a room off one of the mine tunnels (known as drifts to miners) and I was lecturing about education and training.  I was suddenly mindful of Bolles’ ideas that life would be more exciting and productive if we could integrate work, education and play.  In other words, schools would be about more than just learning, organizations would be about more than just productivity and families would be about more than just relaxation and play.

sea-777x437I posed a general question to the miners’ present.  “What if we integrated work, education and play in your jobs.  What would life be like for you,” I asked.  There was silence for a moment.  I did not know if I would get a response.  Suddenly a hand shot up.  I recognized the man and asked him what he thought.  I never would have guessed his reply in a million years.  It was perfect but it still astounded me.  He said very simply “I would not know whether it was Monday or Friday.”  To this very day, I cannot think of a more profound or telling comment than that.

Unfortunately, in classrooms all over the country you see students often engaged in educational activities that have no bearing on purpose or meaning.  Little attention is directed by educators to find ways that student work could actually be made more meaningful by finding ways that students could profit from their activities.  Even worse perhaps are the responses by educators towards children having fun in the classroom.  In the early years of education there is often time for classroom fun but as students progress in schools from kindergarten to college, the fun is systematically wrung out of the curriculum.  Schools are designed to be serious activities and thus have little place for fun and playful work.

In most workplaces, managers are much more concerned about productivity than they are in workers having fun.  Fun times are allocated to off work activities or more likely to activities when the worker goes home.  IF you want to play, you do that with your kids when the job is over.  There is little or no effort in human resources departments to help managers find ways to integrate play in work.  There may be time allocated towards training by some HR departments but again, that is as far as it goes.  If an employee or the organization can benefit from more education, that is the employee’s responsibility and not the companies.

Home life is where we go to relax.  We have enough education at school.  We have enough work at our job.  We go home to watch sports on tv, to play with our kids and to spend time with spouses and friends.  How many people read anything beyond fantasy and romance novels at home?  How many people go home and do an online course for fun in English or history or physics?  We have grown to hate these subjects that were imposed on us by our schools so most of us never want to hear about them again.  Even if we know that education should be for life, it is difficult to find classes that are not geared towards getting a degree or a diploma or a certificate.  Many of us take up hobbies like gardening, wood working or playing an instrument because we see these activities as fun and less purposeful than the stress we associate with learning and education or the work we do to make a living.  I have friends who love woodworking and make some beautiful objects.  They have no thought of selling these and do it for fun and the gratification of creating something.  Most often they give these to friends and relatives without consideration of remuneration.  To put these on a paying basis might take the fun out of the activity for them.

20110907101009home-ecOur work activities at home are generally allocated towards improving our living conditions.  We work on repairing our appliances, roofs, etc. because we either enjoy doing it or because we are trading our time for money.  If we hire someone to do it, it will cost us money that we might not be able to afford.  We may not have the skills to so some work that needs to be done, so we are often forced by necessity to contract out needed repairs.  Some people have never learned how to cook and so either spend extra img_7363money on prepared meals or they often eat out.  I never learned any wood working skills when I was in high school because these classes were deemed “general education” and I was in the “college track.”  The home economics classes mostly dealt with sewing and cooking and were largely populated by girls.  Even today in most high schools, girls dominate the home economics classes and boys dominate the construction related classes.  There is admittedly more cross over then when I was in school in the sixties, but it is by no means 50-50 in gender distribution.

Conclusion:

I would like to conclude with some observations from the present crisis in relation to integrating work, play and education in our lives.  There is no doubt that we are in a crisis of perhaps unprecedented proportions.   As I write this, we have no idea when it will end or how many people will die as a result of this virus.  Thus, it is hard to look down the road and see any possible positive outcomes or merits that could come out of this disaster.  Yet, I do see several trends that have emerged and portend some major changes in the future of work, school and play as we know them traditionally.

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In terms of work, more employers are allowing their employees to work from home.  This was an idea that had merit many years ago however, most employers were loath to let their employees out of their sight.  I am sure you have heard the comment: “But how will I know they are doing their work and not goofing off?”  Sad, that any employer would have so little faith in their employees that they could offer this lame excuse.  Not only are many employees more productive by working from home, but it allows them to integrate their work lives with their family lives often to very positive advantage for both families and employers.

Another major benefit to the world comes from the decreased air pollution by eliminating a significant proportion of automobile traffic.  In addition, we will be seeing a decline (unfortunately offset by Corvid 19 deaths) in highway fatalities and accidents. More people will be productive by simply eliminating commute times that add nothing to the bottom line in organizations.

Homeschooling-pro-and-conFrom teachers and many educators, we hear the lament that children will miss three or more months of schooling.  Unfortunately for the teachers that feel this way, students may miss out on “schooling”, but I think not on learning.  Many studies have shown that students home taught learn more and score higher on standardized tests than public school students.  I have been working in high schools as a substitute teacher for three years now and much of the work I see being done in classrooms can easily be accomplished from home.  Whether or not students working from home are less bored with the subject matter remains to be seen.  Nevertheless, there are plenty of opportunities for children to learn from home at their own pace and to some extent be more excited by a custom curriculum which suits their needs.  There is obviously a great deal more that can be done in this area to create customized education programs.

Finally, we have a new breed of hero/heroine.  Traditionally, we have viewed soldiers, fire fighters, police officers, nurses and doctors as involved in heroic activities.  This is still true in the current pandemic.  However, now we have added a new dimension to the world of heroism by recognizing service workers, food handlers, truck drivers, delivery people, retail workers and many other groups who are risking their lives to help the rest of us stay home and safe.  Never before did anyone think of a retail store clerk putting toilet paper on a shelf as doing a heroic job.  If you have been to any store lately, you will certainly see the risk these people are taking.

Millions of ordinary people are losing their jobs or out of work and not getting a paycheck because of this pandemic.  Yet, we can clearly see that the ordinary person whether working now or not was responsible for the great economy we had.  The loss of stock value, the decline in GDP and the possible coming depression shows to what extent the “Economy” is a product of ordinary people doing extraordinary work in ordinary times.  The economy never was and never will be a product of politicians, billionaires or the stock market.  Dr. Deming said this about the common worker, and it bears repeating:

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These comments from Dr. Deming directly reflect on his Points Number 8-9-10-11-and 12.

“I’ve seen how deeply plant workers appreciate it when somebody recognizes and respects the storehouse of knowledge they accumulate day to day on the job. Giving people the opportunity to participate in improving the product pays off, because workers realize security isn’t worth a hoot if the product is shoddy.” — Dr. Deming

When we finally overcome the monster that is terrorizing our world, we must begin the task of restoring honor to people who work for a living by paying decent wages and not allowing .1% of the population to control 40 percent of the wealth in our country.  We must continue to allow people to have more joy, fun, meaning, passion, education and purpose in their lives by integrating these factors at home, at school and at work.   We must start to do more research and to invest more in long term goals for health care, education, infrastructure and the environment.  Unless we value these goals as much as we value the daily stock quote, we will become as obsolete as the dinosaurs were.  Dr. Deming always said: “Survival is not Compulsory.”

P.S.

I found this “Letter to the Editor” in my local paper the day after I wrote the above blog.  I think it summarizes pretty well how some people feel about our present system of employment and work.  

Casa Grande Dispatch, Thursday April 2, 2020

Editor, Casa Grande Dispatch:

As an American who was born in 1941, I ain’t lookin’ like no “spring chicken.” That should not mean it is OK to wring my neck to save the U.S. economy. I am not quite ready to die for a chronic boom and bust system that excessively enriches a few at the top while marginally supporting ordinary workers. An economic system that also must periodically be bailed out by taxpayers — also to the benefit of those at the top — is not worth dying for.

I might be willing to sacrifice for a stable and sustainable economy that recognizes the primary value workers add to the economy both in the creation of wealth and as consumers. If 70% of GDP is generated by consumer spending, it should make sound economic sense for corporations to pay the worker/consumer a living wage along with regular increases and a strong benefit package. I am old enough to remember a short period of time when that was what corporations did while still remaining profitable. That was also a time when the American middle class grew and prospered.

Try me again when work is valued at least equally with investment and inheritance. Try me again when there is an institutionalized economic system that guarantees economic fairness for all who work and support for all who cannot. That might be something an old person like me would be willing to die for because it would truly help my grandkids and my country. In the meantime, those who are still looking for senior citizens to sacrifice for this yo-yo economy — consider starting with the politician who came up with the idea in the first place.

John T.

Tucson

 

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