Learned Optimism vs. the Habit of Pessimism

About five years ago in a used book store I stumbled across a copy of “What You Can Change and What You Can’t” by Martin Seligman, Ph.D.  As an amateur student of psychology and being my own personal “lab rat” to experiment on, I found this book interesting and enlightening.  

At the book’s basic crux Seligman covers a spectrum of human conditions and how each may or may not be changed.  At one end of the range he notes sexual preference which can’t be changed.  At the other end of the scale Seligman places phobias which with about 90% effectiveness can be overcome.  In the middle are conditions that can be moderated with treatment, but not changed.  Reading this book gave me a good framework of Seligman’s research and theories that helped as I moved deeper into his work.  

Martin Seligman is well known in clinical circles and considered to be one of the more innovative psychology researchers today.  Sometimes controversial, often groundbreaking, he studies positive psychology, learned helplessness, depression, optimism and pessimism. The second book by Seligman I discovered is titled “Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind And Your Life” and this one rocked my world!  

The key premise of “Learned Optimism” turns traditional “positive thinking” beliefs on their head by clearly illustrating that “Non-negative thinking” (not “positive thinking”) is the key to success in all parts of life. Seligman wrote: “The optimistic individual makes the most of his talent.”  The optimistic individual perseveres.”  A pessimistic person often comes to believe their actions are futile and thereby learn to become helpless with depression not far behind.    

So, what separates optimistic people from more pessimistic people? Seligman says it’s the way we explain events and outcomes to ourselves. If something good happens to us, how do we explain it? Was it luck? Or was it the result of our talent? 

If something bad happens to us, how do we explain that? Is it that conditions just weren’t right? Or did the bad event happen because we’re somehow horribly flawed as individuals? Will this flaw eternally damn us in all other endeavors? 

Seligman says optimists and pessimists attribute the reasons for success and failure differently. Pessimists usually think failure and bad events are permanent, personal, and pervasive factors. Optimists tend to credit bad events to non-personal, non-permanent, and non-pervasive factors.   

Thinking adverse parts of life are permanent and unchangeable brings pessimism.  Believing negative elements of life will go away or can be overcome is a key to being an optimist.  Seligman writes: “Finding temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope. … Finding permanent and universal causes for misfortune is the practice of despair.” 

“Learned Optimism” includes a quiz to determine one’s own levels of optimism and pessimism.  You can take it on line for free:  http://www.stanford.edu/class/msande271/onlinetools/LearnedOpt.html 

Being pessimistic at times does have its place.  Without it I can lose touch with reality.  Pessimism is useful because it forces me to confront situations and change direction when necessary.  Being relentlessly optimistic could cause me to be somewhat blinded to reality.  It is pessimism that brings me down to stark reality when I need it.  But in majority I live with an optimistic mindset permeating my life.  

How I think is as much habit as anything else.  When I was more accustomed to seeing things negatively and believed I could only expect more of the same that is exactly what I found.  When I expected bad stuff and expected it the sky seemed to rain crap on me all the time.  Training my self to be more objective and allowing negative thoughts to be balanced with optimistic thinking has had a tremendous impact on my well being. 

Don’t worry I am not delusional and live in some false state of bliss.  I just don’t dwell on the bad stuff.  Simply fighting off the quick-sand of negative thought with weapons like “I am not going to think anymore about it” or “stop it, you’ve done enough of that” consistently over time has pointed my life in a different direction.  Through this learning experience I have become much more grateful.  Thankfulness is fertile ground for optimism, hope and faith.  I know of no greater sweeteners for living my life. 

Seligman’s book “Authentic Happiness” helped me further hone my ability to live with optimism and gratitude.  And I have just begun reading his new book “Flourish”.  Thank you Dr. Seligman for all the goodness you and your work have brought to my life! 

A composer can have all the talent of Mozart and a passionate desire to succeed, but if he believes he cannot compose music, he will come to nothing. He will not try hard enough. He will give up too soon when the elusive right melody takes too long to materialize.  Martin Seligman

Like Wind Through a Tree

When the visitor used to come to call my life had much less color and texture.  The variance of hues and shades meant almost nothing.  To look into another’s face and make direct eye contact I rarely did during those times for fear each person would figure out what was going on and think less of me.      

My ability to look ahead to what tomorrow, next week or next year might contain was usually shrouded with a dark and dense mist when the guest was around.  My only clarity of perception seemed to be when I looked over my shoulder at the past.  In those looks backward I usually found the thunder and lightning of old “storms” to relive and endure.   

When the caller was nearby to eat became an obligation.  At best, the texture and flavor of food was bland and uninteresting.  I had little appetite except when I compulsively ate every thing in sight, but tasted little of it.  

The visitor lead me often to wish I worked somewhere else, was in a different profession or did not have to work at all. Focusing on anything in order to do a job well was difficult because of all the distractions within my mental whirlwind.  Thoughts bounced like a ball in a pinball machine with flashes and noise containing at best only momentary substance.  

While the traveler was with me thoughts of getting lost in the world traveling vagabond style or joining the Peace Corps were always strong.  I felt compelled then to run away and disappear, to be anywhere but “here”.  I twisted those true lifetime hopes and dreams of free travel or service into escape routes from my life. 

The visitor and I most often holed up in my home, daydreaming with the TV on, escaping into movies while rarely speaking or seeing any one else unless I had to.  When my “guest” came to call I felt a general gloominess about life seasoned heavily with sadness for the past and despair about future prospects. 

My visitor’s name is spelled with 10 letters and starts with a “D”.  It is called Depression.  Until a few years ago I all knew was for a few days each month I went through a time when nothing mattered much and I folded into myself.  At those times my self view was distorted and quite displeasing.  Flaws, imperfections and old mistakes came to call as I tried to find a way to undo them or find a fix.  Of course I never did and trying to do so was like pouring gasoline on a fire.  

Life is different today.  My diagnosis is “moderate cycling depression”.  Luckily I don’t have to deal with the deep, dark pits of despair many have to cope with (I am very grateful!).  Through lots of work on my own researching, meditating and studying I have come to understand my condition.  There has been some professional assistance.  While thankful for their help, they served mainly to throw some little light on my path so I would take another step… then another.  The work to overcome and manage my depression was something only I could do. 

Today, I can feel my old friend “D” before it is actually near.  As depression begins to show on my horizon, life starts to lose a bit of its zing and my mind starts to spin with old “what happened’s” and future “what if’s”.  Coping is mostly about understanding.  I know the moderate depression will live with me for several days and no longer try to fight it when it comes.  Rather, I do my best to let it pass through me like wind that shakes a tree’s limbs as it goes by but does no real damage.  I read once if wind did not regularly move a tree the roots would be so weak even a one time gentle breeze would knock the tree over.  Today I use the “wind” of my depression to make me stronger in much the same way.  

Anymore the cycling depression does not bother me a lot.  When that “wind” comes I know I won’t get much done at work or at home, will sleep a bit more, keep to myself  and have more than usual couch TV time.  I accept that and it’s OK.  Giving up my resistance to it and just letting the depression pass through me has made the condition at worst a largely minor irritant.  I don’t fear it, hate it, fight it or feel less than because of it anymore. 

One might think only a fool would be grateful for depression, and I can’t say I am one of them.  However I am thankful for the lessons it is teaching me.  By accepting my condition and being willing to bear it makes my roots stronger.  Paying attention to where my mind goes when depressed frequently points to areas I either need to work on or make peace with. 

Acceptance of the way things are and finding ways to learn from difficulty is proving to be one of the greatest learning experiences of my life.  It is impossible to completely master such teachings, but in my attempts and the resulting wisdom I am blessed.  When I am grateful for what “is”, my hopes are strengthened and my blessings are multiplied.   

Attitude is Everything by Portia Nelson
Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
there is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost…I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter 2
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
Bit it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in….it’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
Chapter 5
I walk down another street

An Old Storm in the Rear View

For over two months I have contemplated expressing my gratitude here for my first wife, but just was not ready to write about it publicly.  Even now I am not fully prepared, but do believe it is time. 

B. and I were married and made a home together for 22 years.  We were wedded for another four years, but resided in different states and lived individual lives.  When we separated her comment was she “did not intend to be a divorced woman” and while I considered moving forward with a divorce against her wishes, I didn’t do it.  A portion of the reason had to do with investments being adversely affected if assets were split within the first few years after we separated.  Also there was hesitation about moving forward with the divorce because I was the one who wanted out of the marriage and had caused her great pain.  Feeling remorse for not being able to see my son daily was a further hindrance.  In the end,  after three years she filled for a divorce that took yet another year.  

B. was probably the first “normal” woman I ever dated having previously attracted or been attracted to troubled and “crazy women”.  What I can look back and see now is I was just as nuts in my own way as the women I gave the “crazy” label to.  What we had in common with our “crazy” dysfunctions was a good deal of our appeal to each other.  

B. was 22 and I was 23 when we became husband and wife.  Her family accepted me openly and her Father treated me truly like a son.  Her mother was kind and thoughtful.  In the early years of being married their support was invaluable.  They gave us things we needed but did not have the money to buy.  They took us on vacations we could not have afforded ourselves.  They expressed openly their affection for both of us and their pleasure in us as a couple.  I will always love her parents and be grateful to them. 

Having had no healthy examples of what a good marriage or relationship looked like growing up, my coloring outside the marital lines was a predictable behavior.  My growing up made me like a blind man trying to find his way in a place he had never been to or known about.  In many ways B. did far better as a wife than my performance as a husband.  I was a good provider and responsible financially.  I was a pretty good father who loved his son deeply.  B. did everything else from paying the bills, to cutting the grass to hauling our boy to hockey practice.  As a partner I did have some good husband years before our son was born, but followed that up with a lot of years when I was at best only partially in the marriage.  I yearned to be single for many years before the strength arrived to say so.  There will always be some remorse within for not doing the right thing sooner when I should have. 

What in youth looked like a straight and level road of living, turned out to be life filled with crooked turns, bumps, obstacles, steep hills and detours.  That is normal.  We just did not know it long ago.   It took years, but B. can speak with civility to me now.  We can even enjoy an occasional meal with our son when I visit the area they live in.  I am grateful.  “Once upon a time” is no more.  Past is past.  However, it is good that remnants of what once was still remain.  

My lessons have been learned the hard way, but they have been learned.  The trials and heartache served well in their ability to teach.  I am at peace but will always bear a scar of remorse for the pain I caused B..  I will be eternally grateful for the wonderful son she gave birth to.  He was our greatest creation together.   

Written by Regina Brett, The Plain Dealer newspaper, Cleveland, Ohio
 “To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me. It is the most-requested column I’ve ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more”

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
8. It’s OK to get angry with God. (He can take it)
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.
12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks.
16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
18. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness but YOU.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ‘In five years, will this matter?’
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.
35. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
36. Growing old beats the alternative – dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood.
38. All that truly matters in the end is that you are loved.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s we’d grab ours back.
41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
42. The best is yet to come …
43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Yield.
45. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

Learning to Love Myself

In retrospect I  clearly see a much different past view of myself than the one visible to me today.  Now when glancing in my mental “rear-view mirror” my old behavior is much easier to explain and understand.  Those were the days when my feelings were often thoughts of not measuring up.  No matter what I accomplished it was rarely good enough.  Achievement most often felt flawed.  I frequently nitpicked what was good in my life until there were defects with them of my own creation.

In the past I spent so much time wanting to be loved and hoping love would find me.   My yearning was so engulfing I did not see the special love I sought even when it was before me.  I searched for something I felt empty and lost without.  The reason that the love I so desperately sought eluded me was due to looking in the wrong places.  From the vantage point of now I can see I wanted someone to fill me up with love, which is not how life works.  What I needed had to happen from the “inside out”. 

Those were the days when being alone for more than a few days made me crazy.  I was like some battery that needed badly to be recharged, but could not charge itself.  Love was something I could only see happening to me through some external source.  Simply, I did not love myself.  The energy, the feeling, and the charge I wanted so much needed to come from within myself.  But then I did not know how.     

Today I know that loving my self is mainly about self-respect.  It seems to be the only dependable way I have control over creating love for myself.  In the past when expecting love from an external source, and someone or something did not fulfill my void and fantasies I felt worse than before.  I have learned that no one could love me until I loved myself.  I am able to receive no more love than the amount of love I have for me.  

Attending church in my youth was just something I was made to do.  I got little from it then, or at least that is what I thought.  Turns out, there was quite a bit retained.  It just took many years for me to connect the dots and find anything meaningful about what I learned in Sunday school.  Once thing I do remember comes from the Bible and is found in Corinthians:  

Love is patient,
Love is kind.
It does not envy,
It does not boast,
It is not proud.
It is not rude,
It is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered,
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil
But rejoices with the truth.
It always protects,
Always trusts,
Always hopes,
Always perseveres.
Love does not fail. 

In secular expression, similar thinking is found in the poem “I Must Love Myself” by J. Earl Evans: 

Before I can begin
to love anyone else,
I have to find a way
to first love myself.
Loving myself should be
an easy thing to do.
If I can pat you
on the back,  I can do
the same for me too.
I have to learn to love myself
this is true.
Because no one can love me
as much as I do.
I must find a way
to give myself a break,
and be able  to love myself
no matter what it takes.
I’m not alone
feeling the way I do.
I hope to one day love myself,
just as much as I love you. 

I imagine if I sat here and thought for a good while I could create a fairly long list of the ingredients I used to fall in love with myself.  The items listed would range from the little things to what made the most difference for me.  Within the items with the highest meaning, one has clearly been the most important:  forgiving my self!  Only by letting go of wrongs done, failings and mistakes did the blemishes I placed on myself begin to fade. It took saying “I’m sorry” to a lot of people.  I also had to learn in some cases there is no good to come of trying to express regret to those wronged.  Attempting to do so in some situations only makes things worse (that was a difficult lesson). 

As I think of what I am grateful for this morning, what is on the top of my mind is how I feel about myself today.  It has been a rough and painful path I have walked to get here, but am grateful to have found the route.  I feel the best about myself I ever have and without doubt do truly love myself.  There is a good measure of peace inside me now I never knew before.  My life has been blessed in many ways, but none more so that learning how to love myself.  Many helped me get here.  To all those who have loved me and do love me… thank you for your love and support that kept me on this path until I could learn to love myself. 

The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely.  Carl Gustav Jung

How Does One Say a Thousand Thank You’s?

Each morning I sit down in front of this screen and keyboard to again write about something I am grateful for.  Getting up an hour earlier each day was a little of a challenge at first, but the rewards and benefits from these regular expressions of gratefulness have quickly out weighted that slight discomfort.  

Over this pass weekend I was talking about this blog with a friend and he asked “Would you still write it every day if people were not reading it?”  My first response was “Of course!”  Thinking about it since then I need to amend my reply.   

Since my friend posed the question, it has kicked around in my head for a few days.  In that time I have come to realize without readers I would not be as consistent.  Oh, I’d still write if only a handful visited this site each day, but it would be easy then to skip days when I felt life was throwing ‘more important things’ at me.  I fear that would often be the case if the importance you lend to my efforts was gone. 

With that awareness I have come to realize how important the time is which you give me each day when you read my blog.  Each person who reads even just one, becomes part of the communal voice in my ear that urges me on.  Even on the days when I sit down and have no idea of what to write about, something always comes because I believe it has to.  I find it quite amazing what can be accomplished when enough importance is placed on it. It gives fresh meaning to the thought “things get done not based on time available, but on the priority something is given”.    

This morning I am grateful for you!  There is true thankfulness in my heart for the time you spend reading goodmorninggratitude.com.  I know some days are better than others and want you to know of my appreciation for hanging in there especially when the material is at best just so-so.  The sheer number of people now reading this blog is difficult to wrap my mind around.  I never dreamed something like this could happen.  All the encouragement and support I have received has blown me away.   

The result of this experiment (with your help) is my perspective of the world has changed profoundly for the better.  A thousand thank you’s is not enough for the gratefulness I feel this morning for all who have come to read good morning gratitude.  Thank you for the mining I do in my soul and mind each day in order to find the subject for the day.  Thank you for the tears I have shed and the emotions with that have been triggered as I dig deeper and deeper.  Thank you for helping bring my real and true self more accurately into my own view.  Thank you for telling your friends and family about goodmorninggratitude.com.  Thank you for the almost constant awareness I have now of the goodness in my life. Because you read, I write!  

I want to return a little of the benefit you have helped to bring to my life for the last three months.  With out fail, the song in this video at the link below ALWAYS makes me feel better.  Any mood is brightened when I hear the recording of Israel”IZ” Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’ole’s peaceful voice and ukulele.  That gentle Hawaiian man left behind good medicine I can take anytime I need it.  I hope it serves you positively as well.     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9KHo9z86rA 

Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Behind me.
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me.

 Of course I look at the glass half full.  The only time I would look at it half empty is when I think about how good the first half tasted.  Drew Deyoung

Birthdays, Peace, Love and Happiness

Yesterday was a wonderfully heartwarming day.  Many friends and those dear remembered the anniversary of my birth.  Today I am still aglow with the love expressed to me.  I started making a list of everyone who emailed, texted, called, sent a card through the mail or on line or otherwise wished me a happy birthday.  My intention was to thank each and every one by name here this morning.  However, the list got so long that somewhere in the afternoon I lost track and gave up.  The length of the partial list I did make was humbling and a cue to remember always how loved I am especially in whatever dark moments that may come. 

Accepting that others care about me has always been challenging.  Make no mistake I yearn for the love and affection of those dear to me.  Intellectually I know feeling “less than”, “not good enough” and at best only partially loveable are false emotions and echoes of events and happenings long ago.  Thankfully the resonance of “then” becomes less and less with the passage of time.   I was closed off for many years and that lack I carried serves now to open my heart wider than it could have otherwise.  My immense ability today to feel with greater depth and magnitude is a silver lining discovered within where once was only a big dark cloud.  Thankfulness for that awakening is greater than I can possibly express. 

This morning I want to avoid hiding what I intend to say in a quantity of words that could easily mask my intent.  With that thought in mind, I modestly endeavor here this morning to express my deepest gratitude for the goodness I received from my friends and loved ones yesterday on my birthday.  From those at work who got the birthday cake for me to the old friend who texted from her trip in Israel, from the two dear friends who took me to dinner last night to the other two who invited me, from the simple “happy birthday” words to the cards and gifts I received, “thank you, thank you very much”.  

The time for me to express my feelings to those I care about only exists in the present.  Someday what I mean to say will be no longer possible.  So here below are my thoughts expressed through another’s words.  I place these lines here with thankfulness for the words being lent to me and with deep gratitude for every thread of love shown me.    

If I be the first of us to die,
Let grief not blacken long your sky.
Be bold yet modest in your grieving.
There is a change but not a leaving.
For just as death is part of life,
The dead live on forever in the living.
And all the gathered riches of our journey,
The moments shared, the mysteries explored,
The steady layering of intimacy stored,
The things that made us laugh or weep or sing,
The joy of sunlit snow or first unfurling of the spring,
The wordless language of look and touch,
The knowing,
Each giving and each taking,
These are not flowers that fade,
Nor trees that fall and crumble,
Nor are they stone,
For even stone cannot the wind and rain withstand
And mighty mountain peaks in time reduce to sand.
What we were, we are.
What we had, we have.
A conjoined past imperishably present.
So when you walk the wood where once we walked together
And scan in vain the dappled bank beside you for my shadow,
Or pause where we always did upon the hill to gaze across the land,
And spotting something, reach by habit for my hand,
And finding none, feel sorrow start to steal upon you,
Be still.
Close your eyes.
Listen for my footfall in your heart.
I am not gone but merely walk within you.

Taken from The Smoke Jumper by Nicholas Evans 2001 

If you’re alone, I’ll be your shadow. If you want to cry, I’ll be your shoulder. If you want a hug, I’ll be your pillow. If you need to be happy, I’ll be your smile… But anytime you need a friend, I’ll just be me.  Unknown

About Aging: George Carlin and Me

Today I know it’s absolutely true what I have heard said for all my life, but have come to understand it clearly only in more recent times.  The years do seem to pass faster and faster the older one gets.  As unique events, first times, unmatched experiences and inimitable days become rarer my concept of time is that it truly does “fly by”.  

Even as my reference points have grown to cover decades and not just years, nothing really seems like it was that long ago.  In conversation I have found myself mentioning something that happened in 1980 feeling at that moment is was not that long ago.  Then seeing the perplexed look on the face of the late-twenty-something person I am talking with the realization surfaces that he was not even born yet then.  I often wonder on such instances, do I appear old or experienced to that person?  Or both?  Mostly though, I just don’t seem to care a whole lot any more about what they think.  I am just glad to be here.  

Over twenty years ago I recall walking across a college campus and realizing that in my mid-thirties I had become “invisible to college girls”.  The realization I just looked like someone’s Dad was sobering, but I shook it off at the time thinking “I still look good to grown-up women in their late 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s.  Time passed and now I am mostly invisible to those age groups as well.  

Vivid in my memory is a Wednesday after work about two years ago in a department store when paying at the register a checkout person automatically gave me the senior discount.  My mind screamed “do I look that old to everyone?”  The ego is a horrific judge!  

If my body was a near 60-year-old car, I’d be viewed as one in good shape for its age but needs a tune up, some body work, a new paint job, a front end alignment and a closer look at some corrosion here and there.  Losing weight, eating more healthfully and getting in better shape began with a commitment to my self a few weeks ago.  That should take care of the tune up and body work.  To avoid looking ridiculous I will resist dyeing my hair or having cosmetic surgery to achieve the “new paint job”.  For me personally I could just never allow others to see me as one who needs those things to feel good about them self (even though a little here and there I have thought about it).  

On the subject of corrosion, there is nothing I can do about all the tiny patches of changed texture skin, the little liver colored spots and the occasional bumps that have appeared on my outer self.  I’m OK with all that… I think.  I see the “front end alignment” as mentally getting right with myself.  That seems to be falling into place as I take care of the physical things I can control and continue to write this abundantly therapeutic blog.  Figuratively speaking I feel blessed I have not already been recycled like a few of my friends have, am not wasting away in a junk yard nor in the front yard “up on blocks”.  Just writing that line made me smile and feel better!   

Reading this you may wonder, “What is all this stuff about aging”?  Where is it coming from?  My explanation is fairly simple.  Since beginning this gratitude blog three months ago I find thankfulness comes more easily than ever when I take stock of my life.  Of course those close looks uncover items I momentarily wish were different.  However, I’ve come to realize that is absolutely necessary.  The weight of the not so good and what I could wish were different are needed reference points that help me keep balance in my life and keeps me appreciating all the great good I enjoy.  

It’s my birthday.  Fifty eight years ago somewhere near sunup in Talladega, Alabama the world allowed me to enter.  Now almost six decades (SIX DECADES… yipes) later I have more hope and relish life more than ever before.  I live each day with ever-increasing gratitude that enriches everything.  Without doubt, I know the best of my life is still ahead.  

George Carlin’s Views on Aging 

Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we’re kids? If you’re less than 10 years old, you’re so excited about aging that you think in fractions.  “How old are you?” “I’m four and a half!” You’re never thirty-six and a half. You’re four and a half, going on   five! That’s the key.   

You get into your teens, now they can’t hold you back. You jump to the next number, or even a few ahead.  “How old are you?” “I’m gonna be 16!” You could be 13, but hey, you’re gonna be 16! And then the greatest day of your   life… you become 21. Even the words sound like a ceremony…YOU BECOME 21.  YESSSS!!!  But then you turn 30. Oooohh, what happened there? Makes you sound like bad milk! He TURNED; we had to throw him out.  There’s no fun now, you’re just a sour-dumpling. What’s wrong? What’s changed?  You BECOME 21, you TURN 30, then you’re PUSHING 40. Whoa! Put on the brakes, it’s all slipping away. 

Before you know it, you REACH 50 and your dreams are gone.  But wait!!! You MAKE it to 60. You didn’t think you would!  So you BECOME 21, TURN 30, PUSH 40, REACH 50 and MAKE it to 60.  You’ve built up so much speed that you HIT 70!  After that it’s a day-by-day thing; you HIT Wednesday!  You get into your 80s and every day is a complete cycle; you HIT lunch; you TURN 4:30; you REACH bedtime. And it doesn’t end there.  Into the 90s, you start going backwards; “I Was JUST 92.”  Then a strange thing happens. If you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. “I’m 100 and a half!”  May you all make it to a healthy 100 and a half!! 

(R.I.P. George)

Making Peace with the Past

Gratitude is not easy to separate out when it is swirled with shame and bitterness without the wisdom of years.  Such is the case when I think of my Mother. 

My coming into the world happened she was only eighteen years old.  From a perspective today, I can look back and realize she was basically a child herself.  The first time she left home was when she married my Father.  

My parent’s marriage never seemed to be harmonious even when I was little.  They were not affectionate to each other and spent most of their time doing separate things even at home.  There were frequent arguments. Both had relationships outside the marriage by the time I was aware enough to remember. 

The weekend of my seventh birthday my Father dropped my Mother, Brother and I off at my Grandfather’s so I could go fishing at his lake.  My Father told us he was headed to the central office of the insurance company that he worked for.  Its location was about 40 miles away and he had to go there every few weeks to turn in paperwork and contracts.  We thought nothing of it.   

By the next day we still had not heard from my Father and there was much concern for him.  By afternoon an uncle came with a note he had discovered from my Dad saying he was gone forever and to not try to find him.  In time I came to know he had a pregnant girlfriend he chose to spend his life with instead of the family he already had. 

I did not understand what was going on.  Looking back now I do not understand why my Mother just told my Father to “got to hell” and said she wanted no financial support of any kind.  That was just anger and pride for we lived in poverty because of her temper and quick choices.  

For the next several years the parade of boyfriends began with my Mother.  The ones my Brother and I liked she seemed to run off given a short amount of time.  The ones we didn’t like never seemed to go away.  Between working, dating and living a single we did not see much of our Mother.  My Brother and I either fended for ourselves or were in the care of her parents.  As young boys we were exposed to adult things at far too young of an age.  There was the shame and confusion at eight years old waking up in the single bedroom we all slept in and seeing her having sex with a married man whose son was in my class at school.  There was plenty more, but this example points to her self-absorbed and immature nature as well as any example I can reveal.  

Within a few years she brought a stepfather into our lives, one my Brother and I did not like (OK, we hated him!).  Looking back today I think he was likely bi-polar at the very least.  To use he was simply nuts.  My Brother and I worked like dogs in his little grocery store and were frequently mentally abused.  Here and there the abuse was physical as well.  He threw me out on the street when I was 16.  Through it all our Mother never lifted a finger to protect us from the “evil stepfather”. 

The last year of high school my Father took me in and I moved 200 miles away to Jackson, Mississippi.  During those 10 months he and I found peace.  He did all that he could to apologize for what had happened between him and my Mother.  That was the only year of school when I had nice clothes, a decent car and I would willingly bring friends over.  Pure fear caused me to not have visitors around my Mother and Stepfather as I never knew if she’d be drinking or he’d be having one of his anger episodes.  

All of this was so long ago and in many ways my feelings have mellowed from the anger I once felt to almost pity for my parents.  I do have peace with my Father even though he died 19 years ago.  He made lots of effort to mend fence with me.  In my adult years he always hugged me and told me he loved me whenever I visited him.  He loved being a grandfather to my son.  My Father had many faults and weaknesses.  He hurt a lot of people, but in my adult life he never directed anything but good toward me. 

 My Mother gave birth to five children and only one or two even speak to her, then only occasionally. I have not spoken to her in 19 years and know it is not in my best interest to do so even now.  Her self-absorbed nature and denial of how things were creates a chasm that is impossible to get across.  Yet, I do end up at the bottom of these paragraphs wanting to express gratitude for her bringing me into the world.  If I were not her son, genetically I would not be who I am.  Had my life experience been different I believe I could have found some sort of peace and contentment sooner than I have.  Yet, I would not be the person I am without that trouble and heartache.  I am grateful to have been born to who I was born to and am thankful for my life, rocks and all. I know the troubles simply smoothed me like river water does a rock.  

We have no right to ask when sorrow comes, “Why did this happen to me?” unless we ask the same question for every moment of happiness that comes our way.  Author Unknown

Memphis: Elvis, the Blues and BBQ

As I sit here this morning in a hotel suite in Memphis, I can hear my friend Sam showering in a bathroom down the hall.  Our accommodations are very comfortable with two bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, living room, full kitchen, three TV’s contained in about 900 square feet.  My first reaction to the self quandary this morning of “what am I am thankful for today” is my gratefulness for the resources to be able to travel and do so comfortably.  My life is rich with advantages and blessings, so much so it is impossible to be grateful for everything all at once because there is so much.     

Soon I need to go take a shower so we can get out of the hotel and go make photographs which is our main objective for today. Memphis is abundant with subject matter to capture an image of.  I look forward to being out today in spite of the sweaty mess I know I will become in the heat and humidity.  Interesting how discomforts don’t bother one much while having a good time.  

Yesterday Sam arranged for us to have a private guided tour of Graceland which I enjoyed far beyond what I could have anticipated.  What a great experience it was to have Alicia from the Public Relations office take two hours to show us around.  Thanks Sam for your great connections!  Thanks Alicia for your warmth, kindness and knowledge. 

The home Elvis Presley lived in was certainly not inexpensive, but at the same time was not as showy and large as many might think.  I was able to get a much different sense of the man behind the legend which actually made Elvis more appealing to me.  He had eclectic taste and a unique sense of artfulness.  

What I remember most this morning about Elvis’s home:  the custom made 15 foot couch and 10 foot coffee table in the living room where he received and entertained people, the media/entertainment room whose 70’s décor looks interestingly contemporary in a retro sense and the kitchen which seemed to have an easily sensed positive vibe about it.  I came away with a tinge of sadness in knowing Elvis never really got to live his own life.  Instead he lived mostly the one his handlers and admirers created for him. Graceland was where he hid away from the prison of fame, a least a little bit.  I believe Elvis did most of his laughing at Graceland and the majority of his happiest moments were there.    

Yesterday morning before spending time at Graceland, Sam and I spent time at the Stax Experience which celebrates the 1960’s days of Stax Studios and artists like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Issac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Booker T. and the MG’s, Sam and Dave and many more.  Those artists were at their peak during my formative years and seeing all the memorabilia was indeed a journey down memory lane.  

In the afternoon we took in the Sun Studio tour.  What is amazing to me is the studio is still intact today pretty much as it was in the 1950’s when Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison recorded there.  I expected it to give me a sort of eerie feeling and instead got a very positive sense that a lot of fun had been had there by a lot of people.  Even today for $100 per hour with a two hour minimum anyone can hire Sun Studio and record in the same room so many greats played and sang in.  Makes me want to go home and practice!

Last night Sam and I took a journey to Beale Street which was “a trip” as we called wild and interesting times “in the day”.  Lots of police to keep everyone safe in an atmosphere you’d expect to find around Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  The main different being inMemphisthe music that wafts out the doors of the bars and into the streets is blues, not jazz.  Those visiting are from all over the world and I heard many different languages there on the avenue of neon signs called Beale Street.  Lots of fun, a great meal and some killer blues licks capped off a good day of wallowing in the heritage of music originating in this old, historical city. 

Memphis has its share of grime and grit.  There are lots of vacant store fronts and driving around it is obvious that some of the city is rundown and saw much better days in the past.  I sense a sort of sadness shaded contentment aboutMemphis.  Yet, there appears to be little bitterness about better economic times being behind the city.  Rather the poignant dash of bittersweet is what one would expect in a city that is the southern home of the blues.  Without a least a bit of despair, dejection and sadness there can be no blues. 

Memphis is a fascinating mix of the old and the new, smiling tourist faces and melancholy servers, modern architecture and near decrepit structures, and easily seen and apparent success and nearby states of varying destitution.  Without such points on the spectrum this big city could not produce its blues legacy.  

Today I am accurately aware of the sonorous blessing of being in Memphis this weekend.  To an even greater degree I am grateful to be sharing it with an old friend I have known for more than two decades.  It is hanging out with Sam that adds such broad strokes of color and remembrance to the experiences we are having. 

Whatever we have reverence for boldly tells of our truest nature.  Rick Yates

Some Best Friends Are Dogs

Cody was the smartest dog I have ever lived in the same home with.  He was a golden retriever obtained for my son when he was five, but in truth it was me the dog responded to most.  While picking a puppy out of the litter when they were just 3 weeks old as I knelt down he was the one who came bounding over to me as if to say “what’s up?”  He was being named after Buffalo Bill Cody who is buried along side Interstate 70 as you head up into the Colorado  Mountains from Denver.

Cody was very smart and could do so many tricks I can not remember them all.  With good accuracy he could dig out of his toys which ever one you told him to go get.  While he was sitting a Milkbone could be placed on his nose and he would not eat it until you told him he could (or when you looked away).  He knew as long as there was eye contact he was to wait to have the treat.  On a dare from a friend I taught Cody to fall over playing dead like the orangutan did in an old Clint Eastwood movie called “Any Which Way But Loose”.  All I had to do was tell him to sit, point my fist and index finder at him like a gun, say “bang” and over he’d fall.  That was his most impressive trick.  Like people Cody also had his unique imperfections.  For example he was a rare golden retriever who was a terrible swimmer did not like the water. 

Cody was my son’s second dog.  His first dog was also a golden retriever, a female who had health problems that took her life before she was fully grown (damn puppy mills!). 

The dog I lived the longest with was an Australian Silky Terrier named “Reddy”.  She came to live with me in 1975 when she weighted two pounds and could stand on the palm of my hand.  She lived almost 15 years!  Reddy’s name came from the breeder’s three year old son whose deductive reasoning told him if the puppy with a pink collar was named “Pinky” then the one with the red collar was “Reddy”.  That was so unique I did not want to change it.  Reddy was very smart, but also a picky, prissy and moody bitch!  To her the outdoors was just the bathroom and she had no interest in being there for any other reason.   Reddy was well traveled and flew on airplanes under the seat well over a dozen times.  Reddy disliked children (one hurt her accidentally when she was a couple of years old) and she hid under the couch or bed when kids were around.  She tolerated my son and would play with him at times and at others would ignore him which is why he was given the golden’s.  

I think further back and there was Duchess, the mixed German Sheppard and Norwegian Elkhound who was always with me.  She even got to go to work with me every day which worked fine until I moved to a city where she could not.  That drove her crazy and she tore up my apartment to offset her loneliness and sense of abandonment (or was it to show how upset at me she was1).  Duchess was a little over a year old when I donated her to a 16 year old blind girl who went to leader dog school with the dog.  I got photos of the two of them when they graduated and for a couple of Christmas’s afterwards before we lost touch.  I cried when the girl and her family drove away with my dog, but was very proud of what Duchess went on to achieve.  I know she had a good life and was deeply loved by her blind master.  All Duchess ever wanted was to be close to one she cared about.  I am glad she got that. 

The first dog I remember living with us was when I was around 4 or 5 years old.  Her name was Suzie and she was a stray puppy that had taken up at a house my family moved into.  She was an outside dog and we fed her back to health.  About the time she was getting really comfortable with us she came down with rabies and had to be shot by a policeman (I remember hearing the gunshot…talk about a traumatic time for a kid!). 

There were always dogs around.  Lulu was a mixed German Sheppard who guarded my stepfather’s store.  I realize now she spent most of her entire life inside a fence and I feel a bad about that.  There was the first “Duchess”, a Belgian Sheppard that as an adult came to live with us.  She got hit by a car and killed.  “Easy” was my stepbrother’s Doberman Pincher who was our roommate for a few years.  He was a cool dog who was very affectionate and protective, but did not like strangers.  Easy made me uncomfortable how he was toward others more than once.  I know he meant well though.

There were even the two dogs that came into my life as puppies when I was around 10.  One was my brothers and the other was mine.  Sadly before they were fully grown they took up the fatal habit of killing repeatedly digging out of their pen and killing chickens just for fun.  Once a dog has a taste for that activity, they can not be broken of the habit.  My stepfather took them into the woods and killed both dogs which is what was done back then in farm country with “chicken killers”.  Today that seems grotesque. 

Most recently there was a beautifulLabradorretriever than lived came to live with my ex-wife and me.  Indigo was so black she appeared to have a deep navy blue tinge to her coat which is why her name fit so well.  Most of all “Indy” is a happy dog who got spoiled rotten by her adopting mama and papa.  In the divorce my ‘ex’ got “full custody” of the dog and I have not seen Indigo now in a long while.  She’s turned five a few months ago.  I miss her specifically and in general miss having a dog.  I hope to have another dog before too long in the time ahead. 

This morning I am thankful for all the four legged friends I have shared my life with.  They were all good friends who where there willingly in good and bad times.  I am very grateful for the caring friendship I shared with each of them.  

When I grow up I want to be the person my dog thinks I am.  Anonymous