The How of Happiness

Being happy has not been a natural occurrence in my life.  It is something I have had to work at. It surprised up on me when about two years ago in a group of people the words “I’m happy’ came from my lips. Frankly, it startled me at the time. Without a doubt the statement rang true when the words were first formed in my mouth and continue (at least the vast majority of the time). My adopted motto “every day is a good day, some are just better than others” is a truthful statement whenever I speak it (which is often!) although it confounds some people.

Every moment of my life is not spent in some sort of frolic in bliss. Outside of fantasy, delusion or a drug induced state I don’t believe that is possible for anyone.  What changed about my level of happiness from what used to be is inside me. My external circumstances actually became more challenging with much pain and heartache to wade through. Through hard work, intention, help of others, study and understanding I allowed happiness to arrive in my life in spite of what was going on around me.

“The How of Happiness:  A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want” is the title of a book by Sonja Lyubomirsky PhD, a professor at the University of  California-Riverside. In it her research indicates that around 50% of my happiness comes from a generically determined “set point”.  She explains:   The set point for happiness is similar to the set point for weight.  Some people are blessed with skinny dispositions: Even when they’re not trying, they easily maintain their weight.  By contrast, others have to work extraordinarily hard to keep their weight at a desirable level, and the moment they slack off even a bit, the pounds creep back on.

Where I got lost previously was the belief that changing my external situation and location could change my level of happiness.  In her book, Lyubomirsky indicates only about 10% of my level of happiness can be explained by differences in life circumstance or situation.  Of small consequence are conditions such as rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, married or divorced and so on.  It is humbling to realize decades spent attempting to be happier through changes in my external life at best barely had any affect.  I moved all over the country and even to a foreign land, changed wives, lovers, jobs, homes, cars, etc. and none of it had more than a temporary effect.

Sonja Lyubomirsky explains:  One of the great ironies of our quest to become happier is that so many of us focus on changing the circumstances of our lives in the misguided hope that those changes will deliver happiness…  An impressive body of research now shows that trying to be happy by changing our life situations ultimately will not work.  Why do life changes account for so little?  Because of a very powerful force that psychologists call hedonic adaptation… Human beings adapt to favorable changes in wealth, housing, and possessions, to being beautiful or being surrounded by beauty, to good health, and even to marriage…

If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented.  They make things happen.  They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings.  In sum, our intentional effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effect of our set points and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person. 

In other words, I learned to finally be happy by getting off my butt and seriously working at it instead of searching to find it like a prospector looks for gold.

In the book “The How of Happiness” is listed 12 elements described as “evidence-based happiness-increasing strategies whose practice is supported by scientific research.”
1. Expressing Gratitude
2. Cultivating Optimism
3. Avoiding Over-thinking and Social Comparison
4. Practicing Acts of Kindness
5. Nurturing Social Relationships
6. Developing Strategies for Coping
7. Learning to Forgive
8. Increasing Flow Experiences
9. Savoring Life’s Joys
10. Committing to Your Goals
11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality
12. Taking Care of Your Body:
Physical Activity
Acting like a Happy Person

In retrospect, I can see ALL those strategies were put into practice to achieve the level of happiness I have today.  While not being aware of Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book until more recently, I am grateful to know her take on things.  Her vantage point confirms and recommits to me the importance of staying on my path.  Gratitude beyond explanation sings in my heart and mind to be where I am today.  To everyone and everything that helped me get here… THANK YOU!

The Constitution only guarantees the American people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.
Benjamin Franklin

“I Love You”

Do not keep the alabaster boxes of your love and tenderness sealed up until your friends are dead.  Fill their lives with sweetness, speak cheering words while their ears can hear, and while their hearts can be thrilled and made happier by them.  William Congreve

For much of my life there have been only a very, very few close to me to whom I have expressed my deeper feelings to.  My son, two wives, my brother and a lover or two filled that short list near completely once upon a time.  Eventually difficulty, heartbreak and disappointment softened me to be the man I am today who is far more openly expressive about his feelings toward others.  Yet, I am just a “baby” in expressing the contents of my heart.

I am stuck by the realization there are likely two extremes of experience that opens one’s heart to be able to express their love and affection freely to others.

1) Although foreign to me, I believe one method is when a person grows up in an environment of love freely expressed and openly practiced for them by parents and family.  As long as there is no grievous mental or emotional injury a person grows up to realize the ability to express tenderness, compassion and love is a great strength.

2) The other is my path.  It is one of being thrashed by life until one may emotionally close them self off completely from the world and hide inside a hard shell.  There a person may permanently stay or else may find them self cracked open by life experiences as I was.  The realization for me found the hard way is simple to state.  Love is all that really matters.

Neither method always works.  I am at a loss to explain why.  Why a deeply loved person can sometimes grow up to be mean, hurtful and uncaring is beyond my ability to understand.  But I know it happens.  Why the school of hard knocks frequently causes some people to become cynical and uncaring if not completely numb or mean and breaks other’s hearts I have not explanation for.

How much simpler life would be if my realization of method number two was something I previously practiced consistently in all areas of my life.  Without growing up in an environment that nurtured an expressive love instinct to be inherent, I am a child in an adult’s body in areas of emotion and its expression.  It is only by the realization of this that I am able to learn and see myself somewhat clearly.  I can not become more than I am unless I first accept myself as I am.

Raising my son has been a great teacher about open expression of feeling.  For me to open myself lovingly to him has always been easy and natural.  Maybe that comes from knowing how much I yearn to this day to have love expressed to me by my parents.  Though impossible, that wish will never go away.  It is human nature to sometimes learn from the lack in one’s life.  That lesson learned well gives a person the ability to give to others what they them self never had.  It is then a hunger that is sated by reversing the need and expressing to others what is desired.  Growing up I told my son every day I loved him and to this day every contact ends with that expression which is always reflected back to me.

To all the women who have loved me through the years, thank you for what you taught me.  I regret only in retrospect can I see and appreciate you as I should.  Please know what you expressed was not wasted on me in any amount.  While I may have under appreciated your love at the time, today I am deeply grateful for it.  I know in return I said the words without knowing how to give them their full meaning then.  However please know today I benefit from all the kindness, tenderness and caring you ever showed me.  Thank you!

It embarrasses some of my dear friends when I tell them I love them openly and sometimes in front of others.  I can see the befuddled look on their face occasionally but it is always combined with an appreciative gaze.  Somewhere inside I came to the conclusion that try as I might I can never express love to others too much.  In my knowledge there is no one in the world who has ever had too much love in their life.  I have never read or heard of anyone for whom there was excess of love that was hurtful or a burden.  Yes, there are those who through obsession rave on and on with “I love you, I love you, I love you”.  That is far from love and absolutely not a true expression of the emotion.

It is sad to note that most people today live in a lack of love.  The majority of people neither express their love to overs or have it said to them in the amounts they need.  I am glad to be in recovery from that “dis-ease”.  Today it is still not easy for me to tell someone “I love you” for the first time whether it be friend or more than friend.  However, once past the first time I am glad to have learned to be openly expressive.  How much richer my life is because of this!

It is said that what you put into the world comes back to you multiplied.  Maybe that is why life nearly crushed me emotionally some years back.  The trail of emotional damage and mayhem I left behind me apparently echoed back to bring me to my knees.  But “what does not kill you makes you stronger” the old adage goes and so is the case with me.  Today the love of others I send into the world resounds strongly back to me.  How simple, yet how very difficult this lesson was.

I am grateful for all the people I love and for all the love that is shown me whether the demonstration comes directly or in an indirect way.  The type of expression really does not matter.  To go along with saying “I love you” there are a thousand ways to say it without words.  To date I have probably learned about a hundred and eleven of them and look forward to knowing more about the other eight hundred or so other ways to say “I love you”.

You don’t blast a heart open.  You coax and nurture it open, like the sun does a rose.
Melody Beattie

An Angel in the Marble

Day in and day out I live with the face of a mystery woman whose name I do not know.  As I leave and come home, she is always there to welcome me or bid me goodbye silently with an expression of contentment on her face.  If there is something I must remember to take with me when I depart, I lay it beside her so I will be reminded not to forget it.  She has been with me for well over a decade now, yet I know nothing about her.

“She” is a marble statue I purchased at an antiques auction in the late 90’s.  The bust is around 24 inches tall and its scale is life-size.  Being solid marble the statue is very heavy.  I can lift her, but only with a great deal of care and strain.

What little research I have done about her has led me to believe she may have been handmade in China sometime in the 20th century, but her face does not match the standard ones typically used to create statues in Asia.  While I wish the bust was from antiquity with an image created during the life of a person of royalty or fame, I suspect she is a fairly modern creation.  While being old would make the bust worth more, it would not cause me to enjoy her more than I do.  There is much gladness to have her residing with me in my home.

There are times I actually speak aloud to her.  Anyone who has lived alone for a few years or more knows about speaking occasionally to photos and other reminders of people; sometimes even to a piece of furniture or appliance.  (I recall reading once upon a time that talking to one’s self was a sign of going crazy and having a conversation with one’s self is a sign of insanity.  So I avoid both labels by making sure I speak to some object or image at home like my mystery lady when talking aloud.  So what if that is a little game I play with myself.  Living alone allows such harmless indulgences).

No matter when my statue was made, it is the face that intrigues me as it appears obvious hers was patterned after real features.  I like to believe the image portrayed is that of a real person who lived in Victorian times when poets like Browning and Barrett were revered and writers like Thoreau were in vogue.  The overall style the face is contained within appears to my unlearned eye to be from antiquity like something from Roman times.  Could the face be one that has been recreated over and over for two thousand years or more?

Sometimes I have wondered who my imagined “Victorian lady” might have been.  My imagination is broad and deep so it is relatively effortless for me to spin a story.  My deductive reasoning (and pure guesswork) tells me she would likely have been European as most wealth of the time was centered there.  Assuming her lineage might be English (for no reason except my roots are) some of the most popular names for women in the mid to late 1800’s were Alice, Millicent, May, Evelyn, Victoria, Violet, Elizabeth, Lily, Anna, Ruth and Emma. I love the names Emma and Anna, but my choice is Elizabeth, fully realizing it is my love of the work of Elizabeth Barrett that causes that selection.

I suspect if Elizabeth was the correct name those close to her would have called her by a nickname like “Lizzy” or “Beth”.  Such a pet name would seem to better fit the slightly mischievous and almost hidden smile on the bust.

Flushing out my imagined story of the presence in my entry way:  I would say “Elizabeth” was created as a likeness of a woman 18-21 years old and the original statue was carved of a just married bride’s face for a well-to-do couple’s home.

I hope “Beth’s” life was good and content as the look on the face appears to be.  If she could know her face had been carried down through the decades or more of being reproduced, I wonder what her reaction might be.  I hope she would be pleased to know even today a man sat down and wrote about her because he was intrigued by her kind face and sweet yet regal expression.  My gratitude is genuine and substantial to have the “old girl” with me as her presence brings me comfort and joy and stirs my imagination.

I also wonder what “Elizabeth” would think of the fact that frequently she wears one of my ball caps or hats?!?  Seems to me she’d laugh about it.

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.  Michelangelo

Love is….

This morning I sat in my chair in front of the computer thinking about what to include here today.  A number of ideas came to me, yet none were ones I felt like delving into.  Consequently I went searching in my “idea file” where I save things as I think of them or come across an item.

I settled on a poem by Susan Polis Schultz.  After reading it through slowly I was reminded why I had saved it in the first place.  Within her words there is wisdom to be had and direction for a good life to be found.  I hope you find it as meaningful as I do.

Love is
being happy for the other person
when they are happy
being sad for the person
when they are sad
being together in good times
and being together in bad times
Love is the source of strength.

Love is
being honest with yourself at all times
being honest with the other person at all times
telling, listening, respecting the truth
and never pretending
Love is the source of reality.

Love is
an understanding so complete that
you feel as if you are a part
of the other person
accepting the other person
just the way they are
and not trying to change them
to be something else
Love is the source of unity.

Love is
the freedom to pursue your own desires
while sharing your experiences
with the other person
the growth of one individual alongside of
and together with the growth
of another individual
Love is the source of success.

Love is
the excitement of planning things together
the excitement of doing things together
Love is the source of the future.

Love is
the fury of the storm
the calm in the rainbow
Love is the source of passion.

Love is
giving and taking in a daily situation
being patient with each other’s
needs and desires
Love is the source of sharing.

Love is
knowing that the other person
will always be with you
regardless of what happens
missing the other person when they are away
but remaining near in heart at all times
Love is the source of security.

Love is

Ms Schultz is a documentary film producer and director and an American poet.  She was associated with the start up of, one of the very first on-line greeting card sites (now owned by American Greeting).  She is also the mother of  U.S. Congressman Jared Polis of Colorado.

Today my gratitude overflows for beautiful arrangements of words like that of Ms. Schultz.  While a love of poetry and an appreciation of language well used are in decline today, that is not the case with me.  Just as flowers brighten a room or art can give meaningful depth to a wall, good poems and eloquent sayings are meaningful embellishments of my mind.  It is the knowing of such beauty that serves as a balance for all the less appealing portions of  what I know.

Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.  Leonardo da Vinci

One More Chance

A little over a week ago on cable I stumbled across the movie “The Accidental Tourist” just as it began on a night when I had the time to watch it.  The story is just odd enough to be interesting to me and I have always enjoyed William Hurt and Geena Davis’s work.  The 1988 movie also features Kathleen Turner in her years before rheumatoid arthritis and alcohol abuse took their toll on her. 

“The Accidental Tourist” revolves around Macon, who writes travel guides and had a son who was killed in a shooting at a fast-food restaurant. He and his wife Sarah lose each other in the grief of the loss.  With their marriage  disintegrating, she eventually moves out.  Macon meets Muriel, a unique young woman with more than a few quirks who has a sickly son.  He hires her to train his unruly dog, and before long finds himself drifting into a relationship with the mother and son.   

The movie version of Anne Tyler’s novel has a generally somber tone about it, but there are some very funny parts.  The main character’s middle aged sister and two brothers all live together and have odd habits including alphabetizing the groceries in the kitchen cabinets and ignoring the ringing telephone.  That’s makes for some very entertaining moments. 

There’s also some good observation humor in “The Accidental Tourist” that brought a smile to hear it again:  Ever consider what pets must think of us? I mean, here we come back from a grocery store with the most amazing haul – chicken, pork, half a cow. They must think we’re the greatest hunters on earth!”  There’s more including:  Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”  And one more:  “See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.”

While the humor and uniqueness of the characters in the movie is interesting, it is really the love story portion that caught and held my attention.  I recalled enjoying the film back in the late 80’s, but had forgotten specifics as to why.  It was great to be reminded that even for the odd and eccentric there is someone out there who is a match for them.    

There is one specific line of dialogue from “The Accidental Tourist” that rings true for me and continues to kick around in my head. 

“I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you’re with them.”

Looking over my shoulder at my life I can see clearly that statement rings true for me.  The realization is sobering to accept I was often more of what I thought others wanted me to be rather than who I really was.  That old and tired inward “self talk” of thoughts like “if you really get to know me, you won’t like me” kept me from allowing myself to become emotionally intimate in any love relationship.  

What I frequently presented in the past was a facsimile of myself that had been adapted in ways I thought the person in my love life wanted me to be.  This always worked for a while, but became frustrating in the long run.  Over time the façade became more difficult to pull off.  As more of the real me was allowed to show, it bewildered the person I was involved with.  I seemed like a stranger to them.

The lines that bring the movie to a crescendo for me are:  “You don’t need me anymore. We both know that. But I need her.”  It is at the point in the movie a very man who has completely lost his way in life finds clarity and purpose again.  Through starting to fall in love again and coming to grips with how he feels, he rediscovers himself.  There is one more Anne Tyler quote that sums things up: “I’ve never quite believed that one chance is all I get” 

I stayed up later that usual to finish the movie the night it was on, but I am glad it did.  It was a good reminder that no matter what one’s history or age, love is always possible.   Even for the quirkiest, there is another who can love just such a person as they are.   There is always “that one more chance”. 

This morning I am grateful for the message that remains with me from seeing “The Accidental Tourist”.  It was just the right thing at the right time.

Dream what you want to dream; go where you want to go; be what you want to be, because you have only one life and one chance to do all the things you want to do.  Anonymous


Emotions Like a Woman?

Several years ago in a session with my therapist she said to me, “you feel emotions like a woman”.  At times I have valued what she said as recognition of a gift to be able to, at some level, relate to and interact with women on their emotional level.  Then I think of my sorted track record with relationships and conclude that the ability is apparently not contributing to having successful  love relationships with women.   With that realization thoughts begin about feeling emotions as deeply and fully as I do being a curse.  Then again maybe the ability is not the issue and it actually is a great gift.  Then maybe it isn’t.  Confused?  Yep.  Me too.    

From “10 Big Differences between Men’s and Women’s Brains” by Amber Hensley:  Emotions. Women typically have a larger deep limbic system than men, which allows them to be more in touch with their feelings and better able to express them, which promotes bonding with others. The down side to this larger deep limbic system is that it also opens women up to depression… 

After reading that paragraph my quandary continues.   It does shed a little light possibly on why I have a tendency towards depression here and there.  But my primary question remains unanswered.  In regards to relationships with women, am I better off with my heightened ability to feel that my counselor sees in me?  Or would I be better off to function more like a typical American male? 

Michael G. Conner, PhD, clinical & medical Psychologist:  At the heart of sensitivity is our capacity to form, appreciate and maintain relationships that are rewarding. For men, what demonstrates a solid relationship is quite different from that of most women. Men feel closer and validated through shared activities. Such activities include sports, competition, outdoor activities or sexual activities that are decidedly active and physical. While both men and women can appreciate and engage in these activities they often have preferential differences. Women, on the other hand, feel closer and validated through communication, dialogue and intimate sharing of experience, emotional content and personal perspectives. Many men tend to find such sharing and involvement uncomfortable, if not, overwhelming. 

Maybe that hints at something I can wrap my mind around.  Having never cared much for sports I really don’t know if that is because of my diagnosed “feminine” way of feeling or simply the fact that I was blessed with hardly any sports abilities.  Conversely, I know many women who love participating and watching sports, so clarity on this “feelings” subject is still elusive.

My confusion grows as I read what Dr. Tara Palmatier wrote in an article to women about how in the last few decades society has attempted to change male emotional expression.  She concludes her article with a section titled “The Lie and the Truth”:  In this confluence of events, men tried to become the sensitive guy modern women claimed to want, but did they? In reality, most women don’t want men who cry when they watch “Beaches.” In fact, most women don’t want to be with men who would willingly watch Beaches or a Lifetime network movie.

 (If this is true, then I may just be an odd-ball.  I like typical male shoot ‘em up movies but contrary to Dr. Palmatier I also really do enjoy “chick flicks”.)

They don’t want men to be unfeeling robots, but want them to be men–strong and reliable, yet capable of tenderness. The result? American men, once stalwart bull mastiffs, turned into angry confused Pekingese drowning in a sea of mixed signals unleashed by women.  I sympathize with men. As a group, they were put into a no-win situation by women who didn’t understand their changing roles or what they wanted.

Accept and embrace the differences. Why swim upstream?  It’s a lot easier to appreciate and desire men in all their glories and faults, then to try to make them become “like us”.  It makes relationships easier. It makes life easier. It makes it easier to forgive and to love.

My conclusion is, I am what I am.  Whether I feel emotions like a man or a woman really is irrelevant.  There is no intention within to want to be different than I am.   Even with the heavy weight the attribute to feel deeply can bring on occasion I have a deep appreciation for me just the way I am.  So what if I went to see “Time Traveler’s Wife” or “One Day” by myself at the theatre.  That’s me and I am good with it.  There is nothing to figure out.   What is, simply “is” and that’s that!

It’s great to slowly but surely become more comfortable in my own skin and to not care (much) what others think.  Finally I am becoming grown up enough to accept myself (mostly) just as I truly am.  For that I am profoundly grateful.

He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away. 
Raymond Hull

Love Them Anyway

My son is visiting Tulsa for a few days from his home in Boulder.  I am blessed that at the age of 29 he enjoys coming to visit often and hanging out with me.  Last night our evening’s entertainment was a concert by ZZ Top at our local Hard Rock Casino and Hotel.  

Our tickets were comp’s that had to be picked up will-call once he and I arrived.  With no idea where we might be sitting, we were thrilled once the tickets were in hand to see our seats were “center section on the floor”.  When the show began we were only nine rows back from the stage.  We had great seats where everyone was well behaved and sitting down as the concert began.  

During the third song a couple arrived to occupy the empty seats just in front of my son and me.  That’s actually not completely factual.  They never sat down.  Every single person in the entire section was sitting down except this man and woman who arrived late to block our almost complete the view of the show.  So for about 35 minutes or so we watched the concert on the projected screens on each side of the stage.  Otherwise our view of the stage was almost completely blocked. 

We were both irritated.  At one point my son said something like “I can’t believe we’re 20 feet from the stage and can’t see the show”.  I said “wanna stand up like they are?” to which he replied “No. Then we’d be the only other two people in the whole section standing”.  So we continued to sit, watch the jumbo-trons and the 30 something couple boogieing in one spot right in front of us. 

This morning looking back I am struck by the thought of how some people live their life so out of touch with an awareness all about themself.  They simply can’t or choose not to coexist with the world in a caring manner.  Instead their inward focus causes them to be largely oblivious of their impact on others.  I wonder.  Is it they just don’t care?  Are many of this sort simply sleep walking through life without any consciousness of people around them?  Are they mean spirited because life made them that way or out of choice? 

Both my son and I were tempted to say something to our concert view blockers, but decided not to.  Our conclusion was to give the two people in front of us the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe they don’t get out much.  Maybe they can’t afford to attend many concerts.  Maybe they had to save for months to afford the tickets to the show.  Maybe ZZ Top’s music has some sort of ultra special meaning to the couple.  Maybe…..  Whatever the reason, the couple was completely in their own world without a care for anyone else.  

Somewhere past half way through the show, the couple to the right in our row motioned to my son they were leaving and gave us their seats.  We moved over and for the remainder of the concert were able to see very well from our great seats in the ninth row.  

In case you’re wondering, the standing couple never sat down once during the entire show.  Not once!  As I reflect back there are still thoughts in my head asking “how can people be so completely inconsiderate of others?”   All excuses we made for them put aside, I wonder how much of the rest of their life they will live in this manner.  I wonder how much of their own behavior comes back to them and if it shades their life negatively creating a spiral of “we don’t care”.  Maybe they will learn better as they get older. 

My gratitude this morning is strong that my son and I said nothing to the couple in front of us blocking our view.  If either one of them was a hot head with an attitude, who knows where that could have taken the four of us.

 My thankfulness also includes the couple who let us have their seats.  Their kindness was a sharp contrast to the lack of caring of the view-blockers.  

Most of all I am grateful to get to spend time with my son doing something we both enjoy so much:  seeing a live music performance.  I am lucky to have the relationship with that exists with my son and for us to enjoy each other as much as we do.  I won’t forget the inconsiderate couple at the concert, but that memory will mostly fade given time.  What I will always remember is being there with my son and the good show we got to experience together.  For three old guys, ZZ Top still kicks butt!

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Be good anyway.
Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
People need help, but may attack you if you try to help them.
Help them anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
credited to Mother Teresa


I Did Not See Her Coming

Since 2007 I have been writing a book; a love story.  Working on it has been good therapy for me through some very difficult times.  There have been days and nights when it contained the only shred of belief in love between a man and woman I was able to hang onto.  Over time I have fallen head over heels for the story and that love has kept hope alive within me.

The book is fictional with bits and pieces borrowed from my life and others, yet included in ways far different from reality.  The story is about a man and woman, who have both been hurt to the point they have little belief in love, but down deep a tiny spark remains.  They meet unexpectedly in a foreign country, due to chance and fate, and begin their unlikely love story.  Their pasts block their way to each other and the story is their battle against their own histories and conditioning.

Today is the time for me to step past my hesitance and thinking the work is not “good enough”.  It matters not if it is viewed as wonderful, awful or somewhere in between.  By letting others read a short portion of the story I am being true to myself.  I am thankful for the courage to do that.

          I did not see her coming.  There was no way to anticipate how my life was about to change.  It’s challenging for a depressed man feeling sorry for himself to see much of anything outside of his self focused indulgence.  So there I was on Monday morning, engrossed in trying to read my Amsterdam map and did not even see her get on the tram.  When I looked up she grabbed my attention.  I stared at her just three rows away until she glanced up at me and I looked away embarrassed.  I tried to be sneak more peeks at her, but every time I looked up she glanced at me a moment later.  After the third or fourth time she smiled and red-faced, I smiled back. 

         Within a few minutes the tram started to slow to its next stop.  She got up, took three steps closer to the door and ended up right by me.  In American English (which surprised me), she said “What are you looking for?”  I said “the Van Gogh Museum”.  She smiled and said, “Oh that’s easy.  Get off at the third stop after this one, go across the bridge and keep walking to your right.  You can’t miss it.”  Before I could even muster a “thank you” the doors on the tram opened, she smiled at me and I watched her step off the tram.   

          As the doors closed I stared at her as she walked away.  Tall and slender but not skinny and she was about five foot seven or eight.  Hair below her shoulders pulled back with a knit hat on top of her head.  Dark pants were tucked into high boots that came up to a few inches below her knee (young or old, the women in The Netherlands all seem to wear boots in the winter. I had noticed on previous visits that no two pair seemed to be alike in the whole city).  As she walked away I studied her.  With a well-fitting below the waist length leather jacket, a scarf wrapped around and around her neck with an umbrella in hand my mystery woman looked typical for a casually well dressed female in the Amsterdam in February.  

          The blue and white tram slowly began to continue south as I watched her finish crossing the street.  I was staring straight at her when she looked over her shoulder in my direction and smiled.  Was she smiling at me?  I wasn’t sure.  I smiled back just in case. Then she turned away and three steps later disappeared into one of the city’s numerous alley ways that tie the town together.  I was lost in my thoughts as the little train gained speed headed south toward the museum section of the city. 

          She was gone.  I felt like a junior-high-school’er who develops a crush at first glance.  This woman had made a distinct impression on me.  Yet she was now lost in the sea of humanity.  I was pissed off at myself for not saying something to her.  I did not even thank her for her advice about finding the museum.  But my chance was gone.  I was left only with just a distinct image of her in my mind.  It was her face most of all that seemed burned into my psyche.  Hers were not the features of a beauty queen.  Instead she was more real and attractive in an honest and non-assuming way.  

Today I am grateful for the courage to post a little of the opening chapter of my book as it is today.  There are 182 pages of the story completed so far with a conclusion coming in the third of the book I have yet to write.  I am appreciative to anyone who took the time to read the opening paragraphs.  It gives me encouragement.  Thank you!

 The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.
“The Minute I Heard My First Love Story” Rumi, 1207-1273

Loving the Rain Part II

The rain this morning is a welcome relief from the heat.  Even with temperatures beginning to moderate as Fall fast approaches, the drizzle is a recently rare and welcome occurence.  Instead of attempting to create anew my feelings about the rain, today I am instead offering a “rerun” from the first few weeks I wrote here.  Now, as then, I am graciously grateful for the rain.

Originally posted May 1 2011:  The ivy on my patio has been loving the rain of the last couple of weeks.  So have I!  For me there is no greater pleasure than a rainy day with a window open so I can hear the rain, then sitting down close by with a good book and spending the hours richly soaking up the minutes.  I absorb more from what is printed on each page and the mental images the writer’s words put in my mind are more vivid and alive than when reading on a sunny day. 

I really do love the rain and the misty, overcast days when the hours are drizzled away.  I feel safer on such days as even the robbers and burglars are not as likely to be active on a day when it is raining.  There is such comfort for me from the constant drizzle and ocassional thunder. I feel closer to life, softer inside and memories flow easier for me with a sweeter taste on such a day. 

 I believe my thoughts and feelings are  rooted in my childhood and being on my grandparent’s front porch in the rural south on damp, wet days.  When a couch became too worn for the inside, it became a fixture on the front porch until the outside exposure did it in.  Usually about the time a new couch appeared inside and another old one was ready for the porch.  There on the couch and and under a quilt or two I borrowed from inside the house I sat, watched, sometimes read and often took a nap.  The porch was one of these BIG Southern front porches long and wide enough that the rain rarely reached anywhere near me on the couch.  Watching a good thunderstorm from that vantage point was extra special!  I always felt safe.  I never thought much about the fact that sometimes the dogs slept on the couch too.  I don’t remember ever getting fleas! 

My top of mind gratitude this Sunday morning is for the rain… the beautiful showery drizzle that I enjoy beyond my ability to express it.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s loving description of the rain is far better than any I could ever write:

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
How it clatters along the roofs
Like the tramp of hoofs!
How it gushes and struggles out
From the throat of the overflowing spout!
Across the window-pane
It pours and pours;
And swift and wide,
With a muddy tide,
Like a river down the gutter roars
The rain, the welcome rain!

There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as if everything is. 
Albert Einstein

Ode to Business Travel

Being away from home for business can sometimes give me a perspective I don’t have day-to-day.  On ocassion after traveling, walking into my home can cause me really notice what I am seeing.  The smell particular to my home greets me as I enter and the belongings I walk by daily have newly–noticed individual dimensions beyond what most often just fades into the landscape.    

A photo on the wall reminds me of my son at age eight.  My trophy from a junior high regional science fair begs attention and I see how well it is holding up in spite of it being over 40 years since I received it.    

My piano is too large for me to miss seeing every day and yet at a moment of reawakening and recognition I am reminded how beautiful it is.  Looking closer I see the rich walnut grain, a glint of light on the shiny strings and re-gilded harp.  Even the imperfections of a few small scratches on the piano bench lend personality.  

It seems an inch or two further above the floor has been added to the height of my bed.  Maybe it recovered from supporting my weight night after night and actually grew a little taller while I was gone.  Touching it with my left hand as I heft my suitcase up on the bed, I am reminded how comfortable a place it is to be.  Thankfulness creeps in for the spot where I spent a third of my life. 

Unpacked and with laundry going I sit down to decompress. 

The trip was long and tiring.
Successful as business goes.
Assignments are done,
Battles are won.
Decisions have been spun.
Hires and fires are complete.
The strategy is on the street.

I sit down
To look around
For a moment.
To let the stress vent,
To shake off where I went,
To regain some of the energy spent,
And delight in being home.
No television or radio
No announcements overhead.
No noise of people going by.
No loud next room couple in bed.
No streets too crowded.
No sound of walking feet.
No street performers.
No rhythm, noise or beat.
No cabs to flag down.
No subway to take in town.
No shuttles to ride around.
No fake smiles.
No frequent flyer miles.
No people to tip or pay.
No queue to get through.
No security to do.
No stuff to be scanned.
No pat down’s by hand.
No shoes to quickly forsake.
No laptop removal to make.
No suitcases to break.
No wake up calls to take.
No worry of being late.
No weirdo’s and flakes.
No hands to shake.
No contacts needing to be made.
No dragons to be slayed.
No upgrades to sweat.
No flights to be met.
No trade secrets to spill.
No eating out every meal.
No staying up later than I prefer.
No people with whom I must confer.

I’m home.
There is the quiet. 

It is a great comfort to arrive home after the trials and tribulations of business travel.  Being wrapped in familiar surroundings and feeling the “hug” of the safety of my domain comforts me.  I a very grateful for the “rabbit hole” I call home.

It’s a dangerous business… going out your front door.  You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.  J. R. R. Tolkien