The tyranny of time

I once had to do an essay on time for a writing contest when I was in school.  While I was a good writer, it was not a strong subject for me and I bombed.  Ironically, I erased a good deal of what I had written and rewrote with little time left that was allotted to complete the essay.  I wrote until the last minute ticked away mercilessly, and then I was out of, that’s right, time.

Now I’m 45 and doing much better at a lot of things time related, like punctuality.  I used to be a good ten minutes late everywhere, more than that for social engagements.  I always felt harried and nervous.  There were other reasons for that too, but running behind definitely doesn’t help.  That’s not to say I’m never late, but I know how to avoid it.  I’ve developed a greater sense of urgency which kicks in before it’s too late to have any chance of getting ready and getting there on time.  So that’s being on time,  better.

Then there’s time management.  Let’s look at the everyday first.  There’s work. No choice how long you’re there.  And some people drive a good ways to their jobs.  I don’t.  I don’t know how people can drive an hour and a half or more each way, 5 days a week.  That’s crazy to me.  It’s too big a time investment.  I don’t want my life to be about work. I want time to put into things I want to do for personal enrichment, enjoyment, and to secure my future.  That last one refers to writing.  Of course, I seem to find all kinds of things to stall before writing, even housework.  It has to be done, but it can wait.

We measure time in hours and minutes through the daily grind, while months and years seem to slip by.  A couple of my new friends from church are older than me.  One just turned sixty and the other will be in the fall.  I commented to both of them how people always lament getting older even though they may seem young to someone else.  They both quickly responded that age is just a number.  As they are both active and don’t look or act their age, I think I should look at it that way too.  The thing is, I always focus on how much I thought I would have accomplished by a given age, and then I feel the passage of time like a weight.  I think, I’m forty-five and still haven’t completed anything significant with my writing.  I haven’t had a real meaningful relationship.  I haven’t traveled, haven’t done this, haven’t experienced that.  See the pattern?

I do try to look at things positively, to see what I have done.  It’s challenging for me because I’ve always been very hard on myself, but I’ve been through a lot, and I’ve grown as a person tremendously.  I conquered shyness, I’m more confident.  I went through health and career challenges.  I usually see the glass half full when it comes to other people or external situations, so I shall try to do that for myself.

I never got my bachelor’s degree becomes, I have an associate’s degree which I did while working and was the first in my family to get any kind of degree beyond high school.  I’m not a writer becomes, I’m in a much better job than any previous and have a regular schedule so I can plan my writing time. Forty-five goes from, too old to start on things I wish I’d done already to, a good age to take off running.  I’ve got so much more life experience now for writing material.  Robert Frost comes to mind as one of many whose careers started in their forties.

I guess the important thing is that you take the next step whenever you come to it, whether you come to it at the time you had planned or expected, or not.  If the way is blocked you make a new path.  Detours can delay us, but make us stronger and wiser on the other side.   Impatience just makes the extra time wasted.  And the last thing anyone should do in this fleeting life is waste time.

Whatever step you need, or want to take next in your life,  take it as soon as you can, even if it’s just a little baby step.  Maybe that’s all it’s possible to do right now, but the action will affirm your intent and grow into resolution.

I almost feel bad for giving this post the title I gave it, but it’s how I’ve felt many times over the years.  Of course, you can’t halt the march of time, or even slow it.  You can watch the torrent go by from the shore, making you dizzy, or you can jump in and swim with the current.

Seize the day! Seize the moment!

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The art of discipline

A thought came to me years ago which still challenges me greatly.  “The disciplined artist succeeds.”

I mean artist in the broad sense of the word.  Writer, musician, painter, photographer, filmmaker, etc.  I also mean those who engage in artistic activities, not just those who make a living at it.  An artist at heart.

I think most of us tend to be indulgent sorts, sometimes overly so.  Partying, experimenting, addictions.  Artists need and want to experience things in order to reproduce some part of life in their work.  That can lead to trouble.  I just quit smoking last October, and hit the bottle pretty hard for a while about four years ago.  Of course, these things aren’t unique to artists, but they can be more damaging to a creative soul.

But even if one doesn’t wander into more serious traps, it can still be very difficult to discipline oneself to stick to something to fruition.  I know it’s tough for me to finish one thing before moving on to another.  I switch from a short story to a screenplay to poetry.

It’s also a struggle to sit down and write.  Maybe writers are the worst. “I hate writing, I love having written.”  says Dorothy Parker.   I personally can find a million things to do before writing.  It’s why my evenings after work get away from me, night after night, week after week for months and years.  I remember reading in a textbook for a writing class at community college in which the author admonished the reader that it’s possible to think of yourself as a writer your whole life and never actually achieve it.  It won’t happen to me.  That was my reaction.  A fervent and immediate reaction.  I’m 45 and it hasn’t happened yet.  Fortunately, I’ve got this discipline thing down.  Ha! I kill me. Anyway,  I’m working on it.

I’ve realized that discipline is a demanding mistress.  It doesn’t like to share.  The times that I’ve gotten the most done are when I’m on a whole life discipline kick.  I start working out, quit smoking, getting up when the alarm goes off,  being on time and writing.  It feels good and keeps you going.  If you recognize your triggers that make you slack off, nip it in the bud!  When one area slides, others will follow down that slippery slope.

Discipline gets you from inspiration to completion.

Ever have a great idea that you can’t wait to get started on, but once you get it started, you get bogged down in the details.  It’s frustrating when that spark of elation turns into, well, work.  Keep pushing through it.  It will be worth it.  I hope to see you at the finish line.  Maybe I’ll be waiting for you.  Maybe you’ll be waiting for me.  Here’s to the race.

 

A closer walk

First post in a long time.  I’m going to make them regularly again.  And this time I mean it.  Ahem.

I recently started going to church again.  Don’t worry if you’re not religious.  Neither am I.  This is far from an evangelical endeavor.  I merely want to share some of my thoughts and feelings about God and spirituality.

A little background to start: As I used to tell people, I’m not a “born again” Christian.  I’m a born and raised Christian.  Been in church as long as I can remember, and before that.  I remember accepting Jesus when I was about 7 or 8 along with my brother and a friend in our living room at my mother’s guidance.  No bells or whistles went off, and I honestly didn’t feel any big weight lifted off my shoulders or even a warm fuzzy feeling.  I was pretty young after all, and pretty well behaved.  Not that much to confess.  I did feel like I’d just done something important, though, and that it was a commitment.

I stayed true to that commitment for most of my life, with a period of deistic distance. More on that later. I did the Sunday School and church thing with my family as a child and young adult.  I don’t regret or resent it like many people do.  At least, not the church-going itself.  More on that later, too.  I actually enjoyed Sunday School and youth group as a teen, and I even liked the monthly mission nights when we had guests tell of their experiences on their mission trips for the church all over the country and the world.  I always wanted to travel, (Still do.) and this was a chance to hear about how people lived in other parts of our nation and around the globe.

I was a little “luke-warm” toward God the last couple years of high school and through the college years, just due to scholastic distractions.  But I still attended church regularly.  It was during a year and a half break between colleges, while still living at home, that I had a faith renewal.  One of those guest speakers in the missions department, was giving the main message one Sunday.  He spoke of several times in his life when, what could be described as miraculous events, occurred, like a very large man (angel) appearing behind him and a companion when facing several menacing would-be attackers.  I don’t clearly remember the other incidences. I didn’t think much of it at first, but then I thought about it.  I reasoned that if I really believed in this whole God thing, then couldn’t the missionary man’s tales be true?  I opened my mind to the possibilities.  I went to nearby Minsi Lake after church and looked to the seagull-filled mostly sunny sky and I felt liberated – from doubt.  It would return.

In the meantime, though, I delved into scriptures and prayer, and self discovery like never before.  It really helped me to grow as a person.  I would pray the whole way on my half hour commute and found that I repeated the same things everyday, so I started to try and rephrase things from day to day.  Much to my surprise, doing so often made me realize the answer to my prayer, whether it was what I was looking for or not.

The down side was that I started to get a self-righteous, pious attitude.  I only listened to Christian music, and at work, Focus on the Family started the daily line-up of biblical sound bites pumping through my headphones.  The Christian Right movement was steadily increasing its entanglement of The Church at that time.  I was nearly sucked in before seeing the light.  To think, I almost voted for Bob Dole.  Thank God, I departed from the political invasion of Christianity.

Between national politics, church politics and moving out, my church going days were soon to see a hiatus.  My home church had gone through a split a few years earlier, after which we got a very warm, loving, and bright younger pastor.  My family and I loved him.  But the old people who sit in the back with their old money, saw fit to send him packing.  Even my parents emigrated to another church then, and I had moved 45 minutes away to Allentown.  I tried a few different churches, but the disillusionment was too great to overcome my fatigue of working two jobs, so Sundays became just a chance to sleep in.

I didn’t throw out the baby Jesus with the bath water.  I maintained a belief in God.  I just wasn’t really “feeling” it.  At times I was borderline agnostic, but the doubts never totally took over.  I guess you could say I was a Deist, believing that God exists, but feeling like his major work was done and he didn’t get too involved in things down here.

It was during this time of reduced influence of Christianity in my life, that I first dared to think what I always knew.  What if I was just gay?  No psychological or moral solutions.  It just is.  Now was the time for resentment to set in, but not against my own church or any pastors, or even my parents, too much.  It was just the teachings of Christianity that have been held for centuries.  Being gay is a sin, and any kind of pre-marital sex is immoral.  I could’ve had so much fun.

For years, I just attended my parents’ new church on holidays and once in a while got out my Bible and read a chapter a day, for two or three days.  So when I returned to church, I’ll admit, it was largely to seek social connections.  I’d found a gay friendly church.  In fact, straight people are scarce in those attending.

I joined as a member on Easter Sunday with 6 other sinners.  Lightning did not strike a single one of us.  I’m glad I joined and I want to stay involved, but it would be dishonest to say all doubt is completely and irrevocably dispelled.

Sometimes, I still wonder if God hears my prayers word for word.  How can he hear billions of thoughts and words at once?  I can believe that we are connected through the Holy Spirit, though.  Maybe it’s the actual words, or maybe it’s more of a spiritual stream of emotion and energy.  Either one is pretty miraculous.  I can even believe in something more abstract, but I believe in God and I believe we all have eternal souls.

Another challenge is a feeling of resistance, even rebellion, when I hear that we’re supposed to put God first in our lives, in everything.  Am I not honoring God by working on things that will help me be complete and reach my potential?  Like writing.  Should I go to a Wednesday night Bible study, or write another blog post about all this?

Tomorrow will tell.  I have much more to say on the whole subject.  Comments are welcome.

An ode to anger

Ah, anger,

Irritation that makes the tongue lash out where it might otherwise be held still and useless.  That magic little quirk in the mind that lets me find annoyance in things that I’d otherwise forget.  You’re the glue that helps me cling to those grievances that might get lost in the shuffle if I’m careless.

That temper you provide, I put to such good use.  How else could I blame, condemn, seek vengeance for things I’ve been guilty of myself?  Where would be the fun? You give me freedom to escape a sense of justice or fairness.  To hell with hypocrisy! Hallelujah! That meddlesome conscience cannot hold me now.  I’m in a mood! Let me be!

You’re the corkscrew that gives those awesome explosions when I’ve bottled up all I can until it can’t be contained.  What a glorious shower of verbal shrapnel can ensue and make minced meat of another’s heart.  That evil laugh must surely be emanating from elsewhere beyond my own throat.  No matter.

You give me courage to speak when I cannot think straight.  How awful it would be to lie idle in impotence when there’s a wrong that the world must know about and the perpetrator made to pay. Can I just sit there with my teeth in my mouth when you give me so much passion?

To stew, with you, even after it’s all through

How good it feels to simmer for hours or days when I might let it drop without your steady hand.   I don’t need to sleep when I have you for company, by my side day and night, leading me through silliness and folly with a focus that filters out distractions for me, so that I don’t get caught up in daily life and miss my mission’s fruition.  To inflict at least as much damage as has been done to me.  It’s my right! I will have my day!

Oh, my friend, I would never give you up, come hell or high blood pressure, for surely I would…  I would….

Do some good? Make the world a better place? Lift up others instead of cast them down? Mend hearts and relationships instead of tear asunder? Be happier and healthier? But that’s so hard, and you’re so easy.  That’s why I liked you.

Yet, I will not miss you.

A common (dis)interest

I was doing some gardening the other day and found myself piling up vines of morning glory I was pulling out.  I love morning glory, but they completely took over the last couple years.  I let them go last year because it felt sacrilegious to pull them like common weeds.  This year I had no reservations.  All those seeds from last years crops became tenacious tendrils that snaked their way through every flower bed, bush and even sidewalk cracks.  It was way too much of a good thing.

As I stood over a three foot wide, foot high pile of entwined cast offs, I couldn’t help thinking how strange it seemed to be treating a beloved flower like weeds.  It’s because they had become common.  They were no longer special.

We tend to ignore the common things around us.  It’s natural to be more enthralled with the exotic than the mundane.  In the spring, the robins are everywhere, and while they’re welcome as a sign of warmer weather on the way, we don’t really pay much attention.  I’d much rather see the bold colors of a cardinal in a forsythia bush.

We do it to each other too.  The good looking are popular and often get further in life while the average (common) folks are overlooked.

Aside from looks, we see people everyday whom we ignore.  We have our friends, our circles of influence.  Who cares about strangers, right?  How many of your neighbors’ names do you know? What do you know about people you work with that you aren’t in direct contact with throughout the day, or even those you talk to a lot? I worked where I am now for over a year before learning that two other guys there shared my love of big band music .

Who knows what interesting people surround you? There are whole worlds to discover in your daily life.  You’ve got to poke your head up and look around once in a while.  Put down the phone, turn off the TV, get off the computer or tablet (after you’ve read my post) and go explore!  Take an interest in the common.

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P.S.  They’re still really pretty.

A place to lay your head

Between last fall and this spring, I helped 3 people move.  Each was a different situation, and each gave me things to reflect on.

First, the good thing: I got new furniture and decor out of the deal, but I earned it.  So there ya have it.  The selfish end of things.

The first move was last November for my sister who moved to her own place for only the second time in her then 47 years.  The other time was a good ten years ago and only for a year.  She has personal things to cope with that I won’t go into for the sake of her privacy, but she lived with my parents in an apartment at the time of the move.  It was a big step to go out on her own.

The first time she went on her own, she was urged to do so by those around her, but she wasn’t really prepared for it, nor did she really want to go.  This time, it was her choice and desire to have a life of her own as we watch our parents advance in years.  They won’t always be here.

It was a triumphant and encouraging event, and I was very glad to help. I gave my sister things I wasn’t using and I call her and try to encourage her as much as possible.

The next move was my parents in January, precipitated purely by financial needs.  My dad was 83 at the time, 84 now, and my mom is 76.  My mother has arthritis – spina stinosis. Her back, knees and leg make it hard to be on her feet for long.  My dad is in remarkable shape for an 84 year old, but he did have heart surgery more than ten years ago, and he is definitely slowing down.  Fortunately, they belong to a church whose members helped them tremendously.  I helped as much as I could after work and on the weekends getting ready for the move.  The day of the actual move, the good church folks had the majority of the work done by the time I got there after work.  There were still quite a few more trips with the minivan that evening and subsequent days, but the big stuff was moved and most of the furniture even in place.

It was great that they had good help since neither my mom nor my dad wanted to make the move from the comfortable apartment they really liked where they had become friends with the landlords and their toddler son.  With my sister in her own place by this time, they were adapting to an empty nest for only the second time since a year and a day after their wedding.

So when I go there, I feel somewhat at ease that they have adapted to their surroundings, but the place is so small.  So very small.  I can’t help think about all the wealthy estates with so many rooms, they never even set foot in some of them and have amenities they never use.  Nevertheless, my parents have all they need and all they can really take care of at this point.

The final move was my cousin who had to move from the house his grandfather built and his mother grew up in, which he lived in for the past 22 years.  The move was forced by his siblings wanting to sell the family home out from under him.  Fortunately, he was able to move in with his fiancee at her apartment.  But, as with my parents, it was a downsizing.  He put many items to auction and gave a lot to my brother and me who helped him with the move.  That worked out well for us.  Indeed, we made out well between the things my parents couldn’t keep and the things my cousin couldn’t keep.

I reflect on all this in my own home that I share with my brother and love very much.  It’s 100 years old this year.  We’ve done a lot of personalizing and improvements.  One thing we didn’t have to do, because it was already here, was to install a deck.  It was a major selling point with a great view of Bethlehem.  I am so thankful for everything I have and for a loving family.  I would do anything for them.

I still wish my parents had a little more room, but we all have what we need: a place to lay your head.

 

 

The difficulty of progress

Well, it’s been a little while since I’ve posted. I started a new job a little over a month ago. It’s more professional in nature than I’ve ever had before, which I like. It’s also temporary to permanent, based on performance. I’ve always been one at the top of the class, exceeding expectations, and impressing those I work with and for.

This time, I’m struggling. The job is doing QA (Quality Assurance) for digital scans done of materials from the Library of Congress for the purpose of preservation and digitization for ease of access as well as the preservation aspect. I like the work and it’s important to society.

The problem has been keeping up the pace. You have to meet a daily goal, or quota. I’m struggling with that while still maintaining accuracy. I felt the training left something to be desired, as I was told different things by those above me. Now, I’m dealing with a slow computer and not being sure if it’s normal slow-down or excessive.

I’ve dealt with a very negative, critical, and well, bitch of a team coordinator. She tells me she wants me to ask questions, but when I do tells me I should already know that, or she just acts impatient like I’m bothering her. Thank God the person below her, the team leader/trainer is much more patient, helpful and generally nice.

It would have helped if I knew software such as Photoshop better before I started. But I’ve always been a quick study. I guess it’s just that there’s a lot to absorb when you’re new.

I also am dealing with a very different schedule, having worked all evening and weekend shifts and going to starting at 6:30am. I’m pretty well adjusted to that now, but still feel sleepy at work sometimes. There have been several times when I was fighting to stay awake while sitting at my computer.

I can’t help wondering, was temp to permanent always the norm, or is that a modern institution to allow companies to use people for short term goals and then leave them hanging? Well, I don’t intend to find out. I must, and can, and will get to where I need to be in the coming weeks. I’m very tenacious, intelligent, and possess a brave spirit. I will prevail.

It’s been humbling to be in this position. Having always learned things quickly and easily, I’ve learned to appreciate the struggles of others who don’t absorb things so fast. I can appreciate the hard work they do to get ahead.

I’ll keep you posted.