Time for Him to go out to the Places He will be From

Eli started high school today. I walked to the bus stop with him. Because I wanted to, not because he needed me to. This is how it goes. Each milestone a little different. A little more profound. For weeks I have been imagining him in high school. Walking the halls. Figuring things out. Finding his people. Being himself and changing his people for good. His people being themselves and changing him for good. What a great, fun, exciting, anxious, scary, important time. He stepped onto the bus and into another world.

I walked back up the hill and into another world of my own. As I walked up the hill listening to the birds and to Simone calling down from the deck, it hit me. This is the home-base Eli will return to. But it is not where he will live. He will live “out there”. He will come back to here. Where the birds chirp and the dog greets and the little sister hugs. Where he can recharge, recuperate, gather some guidance and advice (to be used or not), rest. This is the place he will be anxious to leave once he is finished recharging. And anxious to return to when he gets homesick or just needs some home-love. It is also the place that his family will sit and miss him and wonder what he is up to. And the place where we will encourage him to get back out there to experience and influence the world and the people in it.

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This Book will Terrify You (if I ever get around to writing it)

Amongst Us: A History of the Russian Takeover of the United States

“At what point…is the approach of danger to be expected? … If it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us…”
Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum Address
January 1838

The Second War of Independence has been over for a decade. This book is a history of the period from about 30 years prior to the Russian Takeover until the American people finally re-took the country.

It recounts how, starting at the beginning of the 21st century, the American people became used to the ever increasing presence of armed security personnel in everyday life. Airports, concerts, parades, the mall, even our kids’ schools were always under the watchful eye of armed guards – police, paramilitary security groups, private security contractors. After a string of attacks on public places and the deaths of dozens of people – including little kids – it was nothing to see a tank-like vehicle with a group of M-16 toting tough guys hanging around the school carnival. It was assumed that this was the price of freedom. To be free to move around without fear of being blown up or gunned down by a terrorist, people were willing to put up with this increased paramilitary presence.

The Russians are patient. They have endured for centuries. They take the time (years, even decades) to train thousands of Russian spec ops forces to be like Americans. From how they hold their weapons, to the way they speak, to the little jokes they make. They set up security contractor firms in the U.S. They get larger and larger contracts for more and more sensitive and high value events, schools, government buildings, TV and Radio, etc. Meanwhile, they infiltrate the National Guards, the FBI, and other government security organizations. In a coordinated attack over the course of a week or so, they seize buildings and kidnap high-level officials in the government, military, and other domestic security agencies. Abroad, they use the confusion and lack of reliable information to freeze the U.S. military into non-action. Wackiness ensues.

There will be some hero who rises from the ashes and leads a rebellion against the Russian oppressors. Spoiler alert: the American people win the war and kick out the Russians. After 10 years of freedom, the leaders of the new country are still working out how to maintain their freedom, how to strengthen their fledgling democracy, and how to do it all without repeating mistakes of the past.


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Silent Progress

I have been writing every day. You just haven’t seen the results. First, I have been writing down at least 10 ideas every day on my waiter’s pads. Just like James Altucher recommended. That’s 70 ideas a week. Most of them are bad ideas. After about 12 to 24 weeks, I’m told, I will be an idea machine. We’ll see. At least I’m developing a discipline of writing. Second, I am working on this blog every day. I have two posts in progress that are more long form than you or I am used to. Here’s a super brief preview:

1. What if… an origin story is about my early days as a college student. It includes my introduction to true competition and the culture shock that probably created my dysthymic condition.

2. Broke 30 is a brief history of my recent personal financial woes. This one is turning out to be long because it may be the genesis of an actual book about going from the brink of disaster to a life of abundance (still working on the title).

I will continue working on those two longer posts and may start more. Meanwhile, I will try to post more regularly in the short form – in case anybody cares…

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Writer’s Block

I’m in a writing slump. I don’t believe in writer’s block so I won’t call it that. You may, however, not see anything good out of me until I have overcome the slump. I am always jealous of the people who seem unable to write anything that sucks. My friend Dave, for example, seems always to write interesting stuff. That said, I know his secret. He writes for an hour every day. Every. Single. Day. He’s been doing this for at least 8 years. Nonstop. Nearly (or perhaps more than) 3,000 hours of disciplined writing. Much of it is unreadable, I’m sure. What we get to see is the result of all of this practice and discipline. we do not get to see what he wrote on that random Tuesday three years ago when he was feeling particularly uninspired. Turns out that’s the secret of getting good at anything. Deliberate, every day, long-term practice.

Now go take on the day.

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A Boring Post about Nothing

I have been trying remember to incorporate elements of storytelling into my writing. For today’s post, I was sitting her staring into space trying to think of a recent story I could tell you and how I could use that story to illustrate some broader point. And guess what happened? Nothing. I can’t think of one thing that’s happened today or yesterday that is story worthy. Before I press way back into my past to dredge up a good story, though, how about we address this? What does it mean that I can not think of a good story?

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Side Hustle Fuel

Man in the High Castle, Black Lightning, and The Blacklist. How am I supposed to get any side-hustle work done with all these shows starting back up. Oh yeah, these are some of the creative breaks I take that give me the ideas I need to fuel my side-hustle(s).

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We are Failing at Making our Kids Perfect. Here’s why that’s Okay.

My ten year old daughter and I shot some hoops yesterday after dinner. She wore flip flops. As I got in my car this morning to go to work I was thinking about that for some reason. On one hand I’m glad she is out getting some exercise with her dad. On the other hand, why flip flops? A quick glance into the back seat told me why. Her tennis shoes are in by back seat. She probably has no idea and did not give an ounce of priority to finding them when they weren’t right in front of the door. The flip flops were there; the sneakers were not. Thus, basketball in flip flops.

It occurred to me that her mother and I have done a mediocre job of teaching our kids how to keep track of their stuff. When they finish with something, it just goes wherever they are when they finish with it. She probably changed shoes in the car or something and that’s just where they stayed. We have tried to teach them. Put your stuff where it goes and don’t just lay it down somewhere. That way, when you need it you will know right where it is. We have earned maybe a C- in teaching the keeping-track-of-your-stuff skill.

As I sit here now, I am eating a small salad for lunch that I had to buy from the company cafeteria. Why? Because I couldn’t quickly find my lunch bag this morning as I was rushing out the door. Why? Because I didn’t put it where it goes Friday evening. In the keeping-track-of-your-stuff skill, I am about a solid B-, depending on the stuff. My wife may score me lower, but I am certainly better than some but worse than others.

This led me to wonder whether it is possible – or even desirable – to teach our kids to be better than us at the things we wish we were better at. On one hand, we all want our kids to turn out better than we did. We think (or at least I used to think) that means filling in the gaps we have. In sports, parents want their kids to make it just a little further than they did. In money, we want our kids not to worry about money. We would rather they not fart or swear in mixed company. If I am a sort-of lazy, non-competitive, scarcity-thinking, stinky butt who swears like a sailor, am I really the right person to be teaching them all of this?

Now for the good news. We are excellent at teaching them the things we are good at. Both of my daughters are very creative and hilarious. Our thirteen year old knows that hard work and sacrifice often means the difference between a B and an A… and she often earns As. Our ten year old knows this same connection between hard work, sacrifice, and grades… and she is quite happy with a B, thank you very much. They are both kind and generous and respectful and polite (when it counts). They argue until they forget what they were arguing about and then they keep arguing anyway. They make up as quickly as they started arguing. They care about their health and they care about others’ feelings and they want to spend as much quality time as possible with their family and close friends. The list of things they earn a solid A+ in goes on and on. And guess what? It looks a lot like the combined list of things their mother and I are good at.

I suppose we earn an A+ in teaching the things we are good at. And what about everything else? Well, they’ll just have to pick that stuff up elsewhere I guess. And considering the foundational skills they are crushing, I’m okay with that.

By the way, my ten year old nearly beat me at H-O-R-S-E while wearing flip flops. I’m in trouble.


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Decide to Be Well

A couple of summers ago, I got really sick. It was over the July 4th holiday, the girls were all up in Michigan, and I was alone at home because of work. It was just as well because there was nothing anybody could have done for me anyway. I was super lethargic, did not really have an appetite, and just laid in bed all day feeling really crappy. Then on the third day, I just suddenly started feeling better. No medication. No doctor treatment. No chicken soup. Nothing. I just was not as tired, felt like getting up, and was famished. I think I went to Buffalo Wild Wings or something (for sure someplace I like that my family does not). The point is, I went from being sick to not being sick. I suppose that is how it usually works. You have a cold, then you wake up without a cold. No idea why but nobody questions it because that’s just how it works.

So, why am I surprised when mental health works the same way? About 12 years ago a psychiatrist said that in addition to my dysthymic disorder I have chronic, low-level anxiety. She prescribed medication, which I still take. It was about a year ago, though, that I discovered what real, acute anxiety is like. We had just started the depositions for the law suit that the buyers of our former house brought. Never get sued. Believe me. Whoever said, “so, sue me,” never went through the actual hell of an actual law suit. My wife went before me. She is genetically and absolutely incapable of lying. This is a good thing because the truth of our situation is our best defense in this lawsuit. She is not only incapable of lying, but she also wants to be helpful to everyone. She also knows that the truth will prevail and I believe she saw her job in the deposition as helping everyone (including the opposition lawyer) get to the truth. This is how I think about things, too. The lawyer’s job, though, is not to get to the truth. The lawyer’s job is to win and to make you lose. There is no such thing as a win/win in a law suit. So, the grilling was brutal. She did a great job under the pressure, but there were many times when she offered information that I had remembered differently, when she guessed, when she agreed with the lawyer’s “guesses”. It went on for over 12 hours. She was tired. I was tired. And I was not allowed to jump in and help. If you know me, staying silent is a huge stretch for me when I feel like I could help by jumping in. About mid-morning, I began to feel sick. My heart rate went above 100. I had trouble getting a full breath. My head was swimming. I thought I was coming down with a cold. When we finished, we stopped for a late dinner and went home. A couple of hours later and I felt fine. I woke up the next day feeling fine. Then we went for day 2 of the grueling ordeal. More grilling. She did way better the second day but I did not. Again, about mid-morning, I began to feel sick. Tight chest. Couldn’t get a full breath. Dizzy. And that feeling in the pit of my stomach like I was either going to puke or the world was ending. We went home. We got some rest. I felt fine again. For a week or so.

Then, I heard from my good friend Mark that he was not doing so well. He was drinking again and he was losing hope. His fiancé reached out to a group of us to see what we could do to support him. I talked to him probably a dozen times over the next few weeks. The last time I talked to him was the day before Thanksgiving as I was preparing to head north for the holiday. I knew Mark would be spending Thanksgiving alone. And deep down I knew there was nothing I could do to stop the inevitable. I texted him a few times on Thanksgiving and I think I may have tried to call. Friday morning, my phone rang Friday morning and Mark’s name came up on caller ID. The pit in my stomach told me it would not be Mark’s voice on the other end. I answered. It was Mark’s fiancé. He finally did it. He ended his suffering using the only option he could see. I began to feel sick. Tight chest. Couldn’t get a full breath. Dizzy. I hugged my wife, my mom, my girls. And that feeling did not go away this time. The law suit still loomed. Mark’s death. Mark’s memorial service.

And there were the financial problems. I took a 20% pay cut two years ago so I wouldn’t have to drive an hour and a half each way to a client. Plus an opportunity came up to work with a firm that I really wanted to work with. Private school (based on my previous pay), lawyers fees, a mortgage, mounting debt (from taking the pay cut). Law suit. Mark’s death. The sick feeling did not go away.

Then one day I was driving to work and my brain just spontaneously decided not to be sick. A voice in my head just said, “this sucks. Let’s not do this anymore.” And just like getting over a cold, I felt better. No more pit in my stomach. I could take a full, satisfying breath. My heart rate went down to about 70 or so. And I have no idea why.

I wish I did know why. I had jury duty a few weeks ago. And now I have that feeling again. And I can’t wait until my brain decides not to be sick.

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Write that book or get off the pot

I listened to a live-recorded episode of the James Altucher podcast this morning (yes I am obsessed but it’s temporary so don’t worry too much)… Altucher’s most recent push is for people to self-publish books. His guest was an author (in the self-help-entrepreneur-choose-yourself genre). During Q&A, at least two audience members said they felt like they “had a book inside of them.” First of all, you might want to get that checked out because it sounds painful. Seriously, though, can you please stop saying that? Metaphorically, everybody has a book inside of them. And most of them are boring crap that nobody would ever want to read. Still, the vanity press industry is thriving. Amazon has millions of self-published e-books that nobody will ever buy nor would anybody even download for free. You have heard the allegorical story that someone asked Michelangelo how he was able to create David using a block of marble that many sculptors had dismissed as useless. Michelangelo is supposed to have said that he saw David in the block of marble and all he had to do is remove all the marble from the block that wasn’t David. If you really do have a book inside you, maybe that’s how it should work. But you are not Michelangelo. You are the block of marble. It will take a skilled artist and craftsman to remove all the things that aren’t your book. So, you have three choices…

  • Hire a professional to ghost write your book
  • Learn how to write, become skilled at the craft of writing, practice your craft until you understand the subtleties of the art, and hire an editor to edit what you write
  • Stop saying you have a book in you. Because some shoddy surgeon will take you literally and try to remove all the parts of you that aren’t your book.
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Choose to be Kind

Note: all children’s names changed to protect their innocence.

My fifth grader walked in the door, set down her backpack, and declared that she had a horrible day. I stopped thawing the pork chops and walked over to hug her.

“Aw, sweetie. I am so glad you are home so you can feel better. Tell me about your day.”

“Well, it all started in English class. We finished reading Chapter 20 of Where the Red Fern Grows. So, we were all sad because that’s a sad chapter. Then we watched a short movie and it was really sad, too. Sarah was crying and Amy said, ‘Sarah, you’re such a big baby. Why are you crying?” which made Sarah cry even more.”

She picked up Basil (the real name of our Min Pin) and sat down on the floor, holding him and petting him.

“At recess, Amy kept saying Sarah was a baby for crying and Sarah kept crying. I went over and gave her a hug and told her it was ok to cry and that was a sad movie.”

I put my hand on my daughter’s head and stroked her hair, “I am so proud of you, sweetie. You are such a good friend.”

“Then, Amy went to Hannah and told her what happened and how Sarah is a baby. Hannah said that it was a sad movie and Sarah is not a baby for crying.”

I was surprised because Amy is usually so polite, “boy, it sounds like Amy was having a bad day.”

“No, she is usually like this.”

“Sounds like a real Eddie Haskell situation.”

“Anyway, Amy came up to me and said, ‘isn’t Hannah mean? Isn’t she dumb?’ and I said, ‘I think Hannah is a good friend and a nice person.'”

I am so proud of my daughter. It is so much harder to choose kindness over just joining in when someone is being picked on.

I don’t know how the story ends because those pork chops were not going to cook themselves…

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