Move

Sharks have to move to stay alive.

This is mostly true (Must Sharks Keep Swimming to Stay Alive?). For most species they have to move to push water thru their gills to breathe. So, to stay alive, they must constantly swim, be in constant motion.

What about us?

Do we need to move to live?

I say, yes.

And not just physically. We need to move mentally and emotionally. Living is moving. One of my dadisms is “We are all works in progress.” I know that we can stop growing, but we shouldn’t. Yet, there are too many things today that hinders us from moving in our lives.

The obvious factor is smart phones. I see the effects of this device as a dad and as a teacher. 

My students get restless when we take notes, but if I give them some down time with their phones… the room is quiet… and they just sit there looking at the screen. I see this with my daughters, too.

The way we use our smart phone gives us a false sense of motion, of living. An interesting TED Talk, “Why our screens make us less happy” by Adam Alter, highlights the fact that many of the apps, social media, and games have no “stopping cues”. Moments that allow us to consider moving on to something else, like the end of a chapter in a book. So, we scroll through Twitter or Instagram because we can, it feels like moving. It keeps us scrolling because the feed is moving, too. There is nothing that cues us to stop. Of course tools like this don’t want us to stop.

Adam’s talk also highlights why this can be an issue. In his talk he visually shows how much time we have in a workday from three different years; 2007, 2015, and 2017. The blue sections indicate work, responsibilities for family, and eating/sleeping. The white space is our “personal time” and the red area overtaking the white area is how much time we spend on a screen.

Chart from Alter, Adam. “Why are screens make us less happy.” TEDTalk. April 2017.

Life is moving. We are not moving when we hold a screen in front of our face. It’s not just the physical aspect either. If you think about it, much or our life is lived in our hearts and minds. The way we think, what we feel, our motivation affects how we move about in a typical day. 

We need to move in this field of our lives, too. Screen time is not the main hurdle in this area, attitude is. As an English teacher I have to fight the belief students have that reading is stupid. Understand, I teach seniors, so their belief about reading (and writing) is hard to break through. Reading is one way we can learn, but we can learn from others through listening to their stories and perspective. Social media is not the place for this, especially at this moment.

Growing takes emotions and thinking. Feeling all of our emotions allow us to understand ourselves. This takes courage and a willingness to face our own shortcomings. Thinking through our emotions and our perspective makes us better people. Also, this type of moving allows our everyday life to be lived on a deeper level, to have a fuller, more joyful life. We stop taking things for granted because our hearts and minds are in constant motion. We are moving. We are living.

Maybe Ryan Bingham (character from the movie Up in the Air) was right…

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Reflections Jan 27, 2021

The girls are settling down. The house is becoming quiet. My headphones are playing some of my favorite songs as I build a writing playlist on Spotify. Earlier I wrote a poem for my personal challenge to write a poem in 100 different forms. It was poem 81, a haibun titled, “A Father’s Gift.

But the writing muse is still burning. I am not sure where this post will end up, but it should be good (it will be musical).

I am tired. I am tired on so many levels, from the perpetual cycle of hate expressed in our culture, to the perceived apathy of living from people around me. I could link to any number of news articles to reveal how much pure negativity there is in this world, but I am tired of viewing those stories. If I took a random picture anytime during the day, it would show people staring at their phones. As if the height of living is text messages and photos saturated with filters.

In some ways, life is pretty simple. It is who we are and what we do with our time. A simple concept, yet filled with possibilities. Maybe it is because I am just months away from my 50th birthday, but time is a constant force in my thinking. I swear I can hear the grains of sand when all is quiet. I still have goals and aspirations I want to accomplish… the time to complete those is running out.

Again, maybe it is because I’ve been living for 50 years but I know that love works. I do believe that we have the choice on who we are. We are in control of how we treat people. What I don’t understand is how we keep thinking hate and pain make this world a better place. What saddens me the most is how deep this has gone. How many kids aren’t loved by their parents. How mean we can be to someone sitting next to us. How easy it is to tweet venom.

I have faith, though. Love is more powerful. Love is strength. I know I can’t change the world, but I can build my world, my home, my life with the foundation of Love. That is a start.

And then there is the pursuit of dreams… if I could figure this part out… Would I like to make a living from writing? Yes, I would. Will I? I don’t know. Money is not the main goal of my writing aspiration, respect or recognition is. To know that when someone says my name, they consider me a writer, a poet. I understand that most of that falls on my shoulders. How I present myself to the world. I know I am a good poet. My words do make an impact for readers. Yet, I feel like the world views me as someone who has a nice hobby. And I don’t know how to change that…

A final note as I wrap up this informal and somewhat musical blog. Even in these troubling times, this life is wonderful. There is pain, troubles for us to overcome. That is what makes the next day better than today. Tell your friends and family that you love them. Have a good cup of coffee and turn up that jam and dance.

Because when it is all said and done, today is the only day you have. It’s worth living for.

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One of the Rewards of Writing

For those readers that have followed my blog or my writing career, you know I’ve been doing this writing thing on my own. My first collection of poetry, And I Never Told You, was printed at a local printing shop. I sold copies through the local coffee shop and by carrying copies with me in case someone wanted a copy.

Today there is social media. I use Amazon to publish my books. I use Goodreads’ giveaway option to give signed copies away. I’ve written letters to libraries and stores to publicize my books. 

Being an indie author is hard. One thing all writers want is to know people have read and enjoyed their works. I have had the privilege of learning how my writing has inspired readers. (I share that story in the blog post: “Our Gift is for Others”.)

As I was organizing information for the winners of my latest giveaway, I wondered how many states have received one of my books (some states have more than one book). 

As a writer it is cool to think one of my books is sitting on a bookshelf or night stand in Hawaii or Tennessee. Maybe there is a bookmark poking out of the top, or some of the corners are folded. Thinking that someone might lend the book to a friend because they think that person would like my poems makes me feel proud of the work I put into my writing.

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2021 One Word

Well, somehow we survived 2020.  To be honest, though, I’m not sure how we will do in 2021. There is too much hate, apathy, and disregard of the sacredness of life for me to be fully hopeful that 2021 will be any better.  I know this post is starting out on a negative vibe, but it is honest. No, HONEST is not my word for this year, but being honest with myself did lead me to my word for 2021.

LIVE, as in live music, is my word for 2021.

There are a number of factors that influenced my choice.

First is my poetry.  As soon as possible, I will be attending open mic events.  I also have some social media ideas that I will be investigating to share my poetry.  As much as possible I want to present my works to the world.  Where will these steps take me?  I don’t know… and that is the exciting part.

Second, I want my everyday life to be more live.  Meaning that this year I don’t spend valuable time behind a screen.  I am live in my own life.  I am there for my family and friends.  I am there for my goals.  It is too easy to feel like I am doing something when I check my Instagram feed, or Twitter.  It feels like I have accomplished something when I complete a level on a match-three game.  But, honestly, I have done nothing. 

Maybe because I will turn 50 this year, but the third aspect of my word is to be thankful for this life by living it… yes, this connects to point two, but is deeper than just putting down the phone. There is a spiritual aspect to living.  No matter what you might believe, we only get today.  And our life is the collection of these days.  Making sure I am live each day is one way to pay respects to this chance I have.  To be thankful for the love of family and friends.  To make this world a better place, even if it is just in my home…it’s the best place I know to start.

So, here is to a new year, 2021. 

Here is to new poems and opportunities.

Here is to today being lived in front of a live audience.

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What are the Words?

A few weeks ago I attended an online education conference. The keynote speaker shared some information that got me thinking. He said that the use of the word “Love” had been decreasing in music. He did not provide any reference for this information. I tried to find a source to collaborate what he said. I couldn’t, but it still got me thinking because I use pop culture in my classes to make connections for the students. So, I decided to do an unofficial analysis of the top three songs from 2020, 2010, 2000, 1990, 1980, 1970, 1960, and 1950 according to Billboard’s Year End Hot 100 chart. I thought the top three songs from the years listed would give a good snapshot of what was popular at that time.

I created word clouds from the lyrics of the top three songs for the year. The most used words are larger in size. Stop words were automatically deleted (this was a challenging decision because these words were used in titles, but using them cluttered the word clouds). I removed all words that only appeared once in the songs. I’ll start with the word cloud, list the top three songs, and then share my insight briefly. Again, this is an unofficial look at these songs, but it is worth thinking about. Let’s start with 1950.

1950

1 . “Goodnight Irene” by Gordon Jenkins & The Weavers

2 . “Mona Lisa”  by Nat King Cole

3 . “Third Man Theme” (Instrumental) by Anton Karas 

It is obvious that names are the most used words in this word cloud, especially since one of the songs was an instrumental. “Lovely” does appear in the list.

1960

1. “Theme from A Summer Place” by Percy Faith

2. “He’ll Have to Go” by Jim Reeves

3. “Cathy’s Clown” by The Everly Brothers

“Love” is a main word, but not the most used. The overall feel of the word cloud is about relationships. I find it interesting that we have a name again as a main word.

1970

1. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel

2. “(They Long to Be) Close to You” by The Carpenters

3. “American Woman” by The Guess Who

This word cloud is tough to get a general feel for because the top three songs are so different in theme and style. The word “love” does not show up in any form.

1980

1. “Call Me” by Blondie

2. “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II” by Pink Floyd

3. “Magic” by Olivia Newton-John

Knowing the songs, I was surprised that the words “brick” or “wall” were not more prominent. But “love” appears as a main word again, even with such a diverse group of songs.

1990

1. “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips

2. “It Must Have Been Love” by Roxette

3. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor

These songs had a similar vibe, which actually made for a smaller word cloud. “Love” is present now in three out of five word clouds, four if you count “lovely” in the 1950 word cloud.

2000

1. “Breathe” by Faith Hill

2. “Smooth” by Santana featuring Rob Thomas

3. “Maria Maria” by Santana featuring The Product G&B

“Love” makes it into the word cloud (I did not place it in the center). Funny how Santana owned the year 2000, his name is a prominent word in the word cloud, too.

2010

1. “Tik Tok” by Kesha

2. “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum

3. “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train

This word cloud is filled with a variety of words, but “love” is not one of them. The songs range in topic and style, which presents a mumbled visual. I did notice that there are now words like “drunk” and “party”. Not that these words have never been in a song before, but these are the top three songs for that year.

2020

1. “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd

2. “Circles” by Post Malone

3. “The Box” by Roddy Ricch

“Love” makes it into the word cloud, but what you don’t see in this visual may be of more importance. This is the first word cloud that I deleted derogatory terms and the F-word. 

This is an unofficial look at the lyrics of popular songs. It is by no means meant to make a blanket statement about music or our culture. But it is worth thinking about because words have power, and our kids are singing these songs, making TiKTok videos to them. Pop Culture delivers a message to our society. Songs are part of that message. What are your thoughts on what you see happening with lyrics over the decades?

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What is it Worth?

Let’s do a thought experiment.

Let’s say I have designed a unique tool you could use every day. For fun, let’s call it a Digital Attention Yielder, or D.A.Y. for short.

Now, what if I told you that it would only cost you a quarter to buy? How valuable do you think it is? How well made?

OK, what if I said it would cost a dollar? Is there much change in your judgment of the D.A.Y.’s value?

Let’s jump the cost to $100. What value does it have now in your mind? Five hundred dollars? A $1000?

The cost of something influences our judgment of its value. 

Hang with me for another thought experiment.

What if I said I would pay you a quarter to spend the day working on your dreams? Would you do it?

What if I told you that I would pay you $100 to be a better friend today? A better husband or mother? Would you do that? Would you read a story to your kids tonight? Text a friend?

How much money would it take for you to live the life you want? 

To be the person you want to be? 

How much is your D.A.Y. worth?

Money is an easy way to measure worth. The hurdle is that LIFE doesn’t pay us with money. Life gives us time. And only so much time. We decide how much our time is worth. Our life is measured by abstract ideas like love, friendship, joy, and hardwork, to name a few. It is difficult to put measurable value on these characteristics. But I believe we know deep in our hearts the answers. We know if we treat our family well. We know if we have worked on our dreams. 

At the end of the D.A.Y. we know if we spent it well.

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Blueberry Muffin Ingredients are not Enough

The bowl contained flour, two eggs, milk, and oil. The blueberries were strained and waiting to be added to the bowl. I had all the ingredients, but I didn’t have blueberry muffins, yet. I still had to mix the ingredients, fold in the blueberries, and bake the mixture to actually have blueberry muffins for breakfast.

I considered the difference between having the right ingredients compared to having the desired outcome, not just for muffins but for life. 

How many people have the right ingredients to achieve their dreams?

They have their goal.

They have a plan.

They have the desire.

But, they accomplish nothing?

Action is missing. Just like making blueberry muffins, the first step is to have all the right ingredients. The second step is to mix the ingredients, spoon them into the muffin pan, then bake. 

Achieving a dream takes the same steps. Have the right ingredients, then take action to make the dream come true. I think too many people leave the bowl on the island with all the ingredients just sitting there… it is time to grab a spoon and start mixing.

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An Open Letter to a Dream

My intentions were to write a scathing, angry letter to you. To address all the failures and heartache this dream of being a writer has caused me. I wanted to tell you about the sinking feeling I get when I read another rejection email. How my stomach becomes a rock that pulls my confidence down into a dark hole. Even the edges of my vision go grey like an Instagram filter.

I wanted to ask what the purpose is for having this dream. I have been writing since the fifth grade. My personal blog, It is all Connected, has over 100,000 words. My creative blog, Creative Corner, has 187 posts, most of them poems. I participate in the Twitter very short story (#vss365) community. I have self published five books.

For what?

If I stopped writing, nobody would care. 

But I have this dream of being a writer. That when someone says my name, they mean poet. I have this dream of someone recommending my book to a friend. That a poem I wrote is someone’s favorite poem. 

But instead of an emotional letter, I am caught again in the tangles of writing. I feel the joy of articulating my thoughts onto paper. The power of creating an emotion or thought through words for the reader. I am looking forward to creating the blog post for this letter. I will create a cool title banner for this. Maybe find a video to end with…

But what you have done is light a fire in my soul. I am thankful for this dream. Even with the frustrations and rejection emails I will experience in the future. I have this dream of being a writer, even though I know deep down that the dream has already come true. These words prove it.

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I took out the trash today.

I took out the trash today.

I filled my daughters’ water bottles. I made one lunch. I started the dishwasher. I had my one cup of coffee. My morning routine is predictable. There are activities I do every morning, like spend a few minutes in meditation. Other activities happen as needed, like making lunches for my daughters.

Today, I took out the trash.

Let me back up to the start of the day. My alarm went off at 4:50. Groggy, I put my feet on the floor. I was already dreading the day. The health department set their COVID dial to Orange. The school routine would be amped up. Cleaning every period. More temperature checks. No visitors to the school. Let alone, the daily battle of wearing a mask. That’s all I will say about that situation.

A bad mood was brewing before I even started my coffee maker.

And it just got worse. Especially, when I had to fight the trash container to get the bag out. We have a cylinder trash can that creates a vacuum when the trash bag is too full. Fun times.

I wake my daughters at 5:55. Get them breakfast. We are usually ready to head to school at 6:30. This morning, we were actually a few minutes ahead of schedule. My mood was darkening, that’s when I took out the trash.

The clip above is from the movie Peaceful Warrior, which is based on the book, Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

I waited for the garage door to open so that I could put my bags in the truck of the minivan. After setting the bags in, I stepped out on to our driveway and took in the stars. I heard a side door open so I turned to see my second daughter waiting for the door to stop moving. I asked her to come see the stars, especially the constellation, Orion.

There we stood, father and daughter under a morning sky that was filled with wonder. I pointed out Mars and how it had a reddish shine. We found Venus, too. We circled looking at the different constellations. We heard the rest of the family getting situated into the van, but we stood there a few more seconds.

“Pretty cool, huh?” I said.

“Yeah, the stars are beautiful,” she said.

We smiled at each other, then got into the van to start the day.

My daughter helped me take out the trash today.

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An Open Letter to the Pandemic

Dear Pandemic,

I got it. I cry uncle. You win. Whatever it takes for you to leave, I’m ready to do.

I’m not sure you understand the destruction you have caused. You have killed us, divided us, and have brought us to the verge of total chaos. You win. I’m done.

I don’t know why you appeared. Was it to teach us a lesson about the butterfly effect? I already blogged about that in 2012 (“The Butterfly Effect”) in a more positive light.

Maybe you just wanted to stir things up. To teach us a lesson. The lesson I gained was that we need each other more than we will admit. You took everything that brings us together away, concerts, sporting events, weddings, birthday parties, and even simply eating out. At the moment we as a nation may be the most divided we have ever been. There are so many lines drawn in our culture. If you wanted to see us fall, I fear you might achieve that.

Why? Why are you here?

I will admit that personally, you have forced me to reevaluate some things. There have been some positive effects from you being here. I wrote a book, April 2020. The whole family plays tennis now.  We have some new recipes for dinner (also a few that we won’t make again). I do appreciate the time and the people in my life.  But the negative outweigh the positive.

There is an underlying current of fear and anger that perpetuates our everyday existence. There is a sense of mistrust of everyone. That connection of energy from a smile or laugh is gone. Not knowing if someone is positive with COVID weighs down every interaction. The list goes on for us as a country and my personally. You have had an effect on every single person in this world.

Is that the lesson? By taking away our connections, even the simplest gestures of a smile, you are showing us that we are all connected?

If so, this is the toughest lesson I have ever had to learn… I hope we all pass this test, together.

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