Friday, February 27, 2009

Is it quitting time?

So I'm watching this show where there's an interview with a man I only knew as an actor. Turns out he's actually a singer and songwriter too. I was impressed and admired him all the more. He isn't an 'A-Lister' so to speak, but I always thought he had a strong screen presence about him. At the end of the short (and poorly conducted) interview, it is announced that the singer/songwriter will perform a song after the break. 'What a treat,' I thought.

I thought wrong. So very wrong.

It was painful to listen to. My heart hurt for him. He may have just been having an off night, but the sour performance, complete with missed notes on his solo acoustic guitar, made me think about how we sometimes hold on to who or what we were long past the prime. For some, it might be a sport they use to play exceedingly well. For others, like my friend on the tube there, a musical instrument. And then I wondered something that made my heartache a bit more personal; what am I still holding on to?

I know I've had my revelations about poetry so I'm not worried about that. But what about my abilities as a designer? Will those skills wane as visual languages and creative tools evolve? Will there come a point in my career where I'll have to bow out of the design arena making room for a new generation of artist? Most alarmingly, will I know when it's quitting time?

Taking a closer look at my buddy on stage there, I observed the special connection he had with his soulful lyrics, his stealthy black guitar, the 'folk' in his voice. There was no sell-by date on his ability to put life to letters and sorrow to song. He's always done this. He'll always do this. And it doesn't matter if he's performing for a sold out crowd, or a intimate audience of what must be his adorable grandchildren. It's in him. It is him.

Thinking better of my woeful wonders, I decided not to concern myself with the struggles of holding on to that which should be let loose. I can't lose love for something that has enriched the line of my life no more than I can lose the chocolate pigment of my skin. I love expressing myself through design. I love it beyond a mastery of design tools or fluency of visual languages. And if I lose my seat at the world's table, discarded as irrelevant, then I'll put my own t-shirt on my back, hang my own illustration on my wall, and recline to twenty pages of my own book of poems.

For who I am is design and rhyme. And shall be long past quitting time.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Appreciation is fuel

At work today, I had a meeting regarding the assembly of a small team and the roles of each of its members including me. In this meeting, I received a lot of thanks, heartfelt thanks, genuine thanks. 

Refueling thanks.

I was reminded that sometimes, all it takes is a couple of genuine thank-yous from the right person to the right person to render an individual engaged, inspired, refueled. In my work history there have been countless situations where I've had to run my engine dry. I did what I had to do with the combination of orders and resources given me. But my form and function suffered for a lack of energy. Energy that is abundantly found in the giving of gratitude.

It baffles me how we can get so caught up in the extinguishing of fires, the satisfying of customers, the meeting of financial obligations and forget the simple act of thanking the person sitting next to you. Like that guy in the next cube that wordsmiths your mass emails before a potentially embarrassing distribution takes place. Or that woman at the adjacent workstation who happily takes on a bit of your workload so that both of your days can end on time. Nothing should be so important that an opportunity to give thanks is missed. 

I'm now fortunate to be in a work environment where I am surrounded by thanks and praises that are scantly superseded by three alarm fires. It is both taught and practiced amongst managers to take the moments found in the day to let your team members know how much you appreciate the hard work and creativity they put into the expectations they're charged with meeting everyday. Offering thanks regularly is the sort of investment of time and emotion that, for a manager, yields a far greater return on investment than most anticipate. 

Just say thank you.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Richly broken

In the barrage of news reports today surrounding the failing economy, CNN saw fit to make mention of an unlikely statistic. I've heard it before, but the retelling never fails to get a shake out of my head. It is estimated that nearly one-third of lottery winners become bankrupt.

Yeah, one-third.

The thought of anyone coming into a multi-million dollar windfall having to file for bankruptcy at all is absurd. How can it be that you spend your dollar and cast your dream only to end up worse off than you were to begin with? One of the individuals in the report actually won the New Jersey Lottery twice--twice! He's now now broke and living in a trailer.

It goes without saying that a large number of lottery winners end up making hasty, unwise decisions with their money ultimately leaving them penniless and far more miserable than that person that handed the Quicky-Mart clerk that dollar a few years ago. The thing that I've come to understand that warrants mentioning is the fact that money doesn't make you smarter, especially money acquired in such a way as the lottery. It does, however, remove the constraints that would otherwise train up a wiser, more successful individual. The lack of money forces one to be creative, frugal and patient. Remove those financial braces and unbound spending impulses often run a person ragged.

I don't thank God that I am less financially fortunate than my lottery-winning counterparts in the world, but I do thank Him for all that He has given me and all that He has kept away. I may not be smart enough to manage 5 million dollars with the creativity, frugality and patience required to sustain that wave of fortune through to the children of my children's children. I may be one day, but not before fully appreciating that this is a level of humility that winning ticket holders and windfall recipients all too often fail to master...or even consider.

I'm considering it. I hope He's up there watching.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Just the three of us

Today was a special day. A hard day. A fun day.

A memorable day.

Yesterday, I was moved by life and love to give my wife something I don't think I've ever fully given; a day to herself. With this came the promise that I'd stay with the kids and everyone would still be alive when she returned. We have a couple of wonderful kids, so this wasn't too hard a promise to make. Just the same, it was a big commitment...on both our parts. While I was promising to care for and entertain our kids totally solo, she sort of had to promise to accept the gift and have a good time. That's easier said than done for my bride. She's a woman about her responsibilities and has been in the mode of mommy long enough for it to fully become her. With either of us, having a solo time out with a couple of friends takes effort. Neither likes to leave the other behind.

But she accepted with a joy and surprise that told me this sort of gift just isn't given often enough. A mental note was made to make this a more regular thing. Still working on that. So off she went after some preparation. A quick Wal-Mart trip had to be made to replenish the rations in the house. We have one car in the family, so there would be no mid-day escape to Zaxby's for Dad and the kids. The food was brought home, sorted and Mommy was sent off for a day of fun.

It was just the three of us.

There were a number of things I wanted to get to today, and surprisingly we did. My daughter, son and I worked together to get the many loads of laundry folded, do some computer maintenance on one of our rebuilds, play kick-dodge ball, draw in my daughter's ongoing storybook, play an Xbox game together, and of course eat. There were a couple minor things that I fantasized getting to that turned out to be unrealistic, but there were far more successes than failures today. Far more.

Managing the day the way I had to, with both recreational and operational obligations to uphold, totally renewed my appreciation for the load my wife bears on a daily basis. I'm not saying I was oblivious to what she does for this family before, but I am duly reminded of the significant difference between sympathy and empathy. I did for a day what at times she would do for an entire week--especially this past week as our daughter was home from school. For five days straight, it was just the three of them. Not an easy stretch of time.

There will be more of these 'day gifts.' There needs to be. My wife is young, beautiful, outgoing, and needs to be reminded that she is not totally defined by motherhood. Then again, she is a pretty hot momma.

And there ain't nothin' wrong with that.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

I am the human Segway

Often times I serve a specific purpose for my seven-month-old son, Caleb; transport. This is especially true when picking him up out of his crib. He'll settle himself in my arms then, as if I were a Segway, lean in the direction he wants to travel, which is toward his bedroom door. Sometimes I'll take him from his mommy and he'll twist his little body around until I'm holding him in the 'flying position.' Then he'll have his transport vehicle seek out his sister, Cadence for a game of 'Super Caleb' or 'Dribble Cloud.'

Yes, I am Dad; a human means of transport. And I am okay with that.

Mostly for the benefit of hindsight. Caleb is our second child which means that some of this was experienced six years ago with our daughter. As a first time dad, I can remember being devastated when Cadence seemed to show more love for her mommy than for me. I would be crushed at the sense of self-worthlessness around my daughter. Even though I was a man of logic, I found no comfort in the thought that my daughter was just a baby, wouldn't be like this forever, and had a stronger bond with her mommy because of nursing. None of that mattered at first. I loved her dearly and I wanted reciprocation. But it was rarely had.

Fast forward through the weeks, months and years and things aren't the way the were with my daughter and me. As she got older our relationship saw changes. There were roles that I played different from Mommy's. There were similarities found and forged in our personalities. And somewhere along the timeline, an unbreakable bond was formed between us. In name, deed, love, I became "Daddy" and there was none like me.

So I'll be the human Segway for my son today. I'll pick him up out of his crib and watch in amazement as he searches the common locations where Mommy can be found, or where his sister is excitedly awaiting the start of a new game. I'll read carefully his leaning and twisting as he relays directional commands. We have our one-on-one fun times besides. I know he loves me. And I know that, as with my daughter, the 'because' of his love will one day be made up of an innumerable list of reasons. Today, the list is short and begins with 'Transport.'

And that's okay with me, for all things now great began somehow small.

Friday, February 20, 2009

'I Came Here Seeking'

I've written before about the collection of old poems I've been going through while in the process of anthologizing (I think that's a word) my works. How I found myself disappointed in my abilities as a writer but later found respect for who I was and how I processed the world around me in verse. I was younger, had a lot to say and perhaps wasn't confident yet in my own, plain voice. But recently, I rediscovered a poem that really made me a fan of me again.

It is a poem I wrote in 2000 whose form, depth, execution and flow are all so much more mature compared to most of what I'd been reviewing. The work certainly shows my fondness of Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Raven' in the way it tells the story of a secular man literally searching for Jesus. After reading it, I thought to myself, "If I'd only ever written one poem, I'd want it to have been it."

Allow me to share:

I Came Here Seeking

In hopes of echoed questions ceasing
And feeble efforts to live peaking
Or the visions which I’ve been before seeing
Unveil themselves like a butterfly entwined.
I came here seeking,
but will I find?

In hopes of meeting some miracle man
Who is unlike man I’m to understand
I study the door to see who stands
But enters no being I seek.
I came here for his hand,
but things look bleak.

Then all of a sudden, like a crashing wave
Against the rocks that stood un-swayed,
Behind me sounded a mighty praise
As my face was turned toward the door.
Startled, I turned to discover its meaning,
but heard the sound no more.

Shoulders shrugged, I returned to my seeking.
Retired my eyes to the crowd with a peaking,
Studying the silence of each one un-speaking
For I’ve heard this man was meek.
But no quiet mouth
did to my soul speak.

Short of patience, now I hungered
In my eyes that steady wondered
From one pew onto another
Longing to be done.
Longing sorely to discover
this mighty “Son of Sons.”

To my dismay, the service ending—
Eyes now shutting, arms extending—
Met not my finding while in my sitting
He whom I direly sought.
Be church as good as it certainly may,
I felt it all for naught.

Still, in passing each one greeting
I studied the faces with careful sweeping
Hoping to satisfy my needing
And behold a holy thing.
A miracle man, a sudden change,
or perhaps a feast with kings.

Alas, the day had not the will
That matched my own; to mount the hill
That was my anguish and be fulfilled,
And low did I go from the doors.
Sobbing for I was broken still,
but now unlike before.

Sorrow must have trailed my walking
For with a tap someone was talking—
“Excuse what seems to be my stalking
I believe you left this behind.”
And with his arm extending gesture
I looked down toward his find.

It was a sketch I faintly knew
A sketch of doors—surely two
And a sign that read: For walking through.
May entry be your own.
I knew these doors. I knew these words.
But I knew these things alone.

I asked the man from where it came
And with not pause his answer plain:
“Aside your seat you left it laying
How strange you did not know.
For I watched you cradle that very sheet
and sketch with subtle strokes.”

Now, surely, I’ve seen days forgetting
Where I left some item sitting
But his words were too unfitting
If this were mine I’d know.
For it was sketched with careful penning
and spoke the words of poems.

“Sir”, I said, “your noble deed
Will go with out reward. You see,
That sketch does not belong to me
For it came not by my hand.
Perhaps back to the Church you’ll speed
to find the worthy man.”

“This man is you” I heard him say
As I turned to walk away.
I stopped to hear his voice explain
But the air was dense and still.
No words came from behind my stay
and to turn I had not will.

For somewhere amid the pieces of heart
That laid about my feet apart
I knew the very being I sought
Was standing just behind
With tears in eyes, I knew the time…
“I’ll turn, but will I find?”

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Working from home

I was up at 3AM this morning and it wasn't insomnia. I had fallen asleep on the recliner in our family room the night before and finally managed to slide off it and head to bed around 2:58AM. When I finally got upstairs—counting, not seeing steps—and before I could feel too sorry for my aching bones, I was reminded that my wife, Alicia had been awake since 1AM by the sight of her sitting before her computer under the warm glow of a nearby lamp. 

She's not a night owl. She was working.

A number of weeks ago a friend of ours passed on some info about what looked to be a temporary but legitimate work from home opportunity. A little research found my wife at an application for the assignment and an evaluation of her home network. We were of course very cautious as we've seen the multitude of overbearing emails touting the greatest employment opportunity on the planet right before they ask for a major credit card number. There was no such touting. Instead, there were a lot of checks and rechecks and tests on behalf of the firm to make sure the Internet connection, home computer equipment and, to some extent, Alicia qualified for the assignment. Everything (and Alicia) passed the series of inspections and she was given a start date. 

We certainly need the additional revenue stream. Sometimes it's hard to get that stream flowing since every opportunity has a cost associated with it which often negates any monetary gain. But working from home is a major problem solver. So much so that it baffles me as to why more companies aren't fully embracing the working arrangement. 

All too often I hear about supervisors, managers, directors, even executives who don't like the idea of employees working from home, subsequently barring employees under their charge from partaking in any such program or policy. They excuse themselves with claims of being 'old fashioned,' like that's an honorable badge giving pass to their narrow views. Here in Atlanta, considering the ever growing concern for traffic and its negative environmental affects, there should be but a handful of companies that disallow some significant portion of their employee body's ability to work from home on a regular—if not full time—basis. 

Can you tell I've had an unpleasant brush against this issue in my past?

Seriously, the family time that is gained from not having to submit to a pointless one and a half to two hour commute (that's one way, by the way) is priceless. And if companies are more concerned about their bottom line than the health and wellbeing of their employees, then the number of productive hours a manager wins back from not having to do the ride or drive should be considered. However it's examined, there are more valuable pros to the work from home arrangement than should be superseded by a badge on the chest of a dying breed. 

Breathe, Ralston. Breathe.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A melody in the melancholy

The first thing anyone said to me when I got to the office this morning was "A miserable day out there, isn't it?" I wanted to say it's just rain. Instead, I offered a lethargically affirming "yeah."

I hate doing that.

I don't think of the rain as miserable like most people do. Even yesterday, on my sometimes therapeutically NPR-induced ride home, one of the program’s hosts pegged tomorrow as a "bad day."

"What makes it so bad?" I wondered. "Will I be doing anything different tomorrow than I would if there were no rain?"

So here is tomorrow, rainy tomorrow, with my actions no different than on sunny yesterday. What's more, the rain seemed to add interesting dimensions of character to my otherwise monotonous commute to work. Puddles of water accented dips in the road I hadn’t noticed before. Tree lines in the distance lost detail and were unified in a blue-gray silhouette. An orchestra of hypnotic sounds enveloped my car as a harmony was forged between the road, the pools of water, the tires, the engine, the windshield wipers, and the fresh impact of raindrops against the exterior. Indeed, the world was more alive with sound than on any sunny day.

At some point during the trip, NPR began to air a story that I already heard earlier that morning and found a little hard to listen to. It was an innocuous story, but an interviewee enjoyed stating his name repeatedly like we do on office conference calls to identify our voice before addressing the group. I didn't want to be reminded of office conference calls, so I muted the radio for a moment. In the absence of discernable voices and bumper music, the melody of weather was amplified all around me. Somehow the sounds made me more aware of my surroundings while ushering my mind through thoughts of trivial things; songs, people, memories. It was a moment of serenity I don’t find to often.

More than enough time had passed for the story to finish and my crave for NPR triggered an un-muting of the station. Almost immediately, I missed the transient silence and was conflicted between the rain and the radio. Which to give my ear?

We are told the rain brings life to the world. It quenches the thirst of flowers, trees, animals and humans alike. But today, I allowed myself to discover one more thing it brings. Today I realized it can bring peace. To know it, all I really need is just enough will and I'm able to hear a melody in the melancholy.

If it's still there this evening, the rain will win my ear (but I still love NPR).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

She is a thing of love

I admire my daughter, Cadence, for a lot of reasons. I don’t do enough to tell her of how inspiring her energy can be sometimes. All too often, I let the challenges of my day get in the way of sharing a little of that youthfulness she exudes without effort.

But we have our good times.

A couple times a week, Cadence and I will retreat to our big, empty living room and engage in a friendly (but competitive) game of kick-dodge ball. It would look like child abuse to anyone peaking in our window. I stand at one end of the room and she at the other, and with our feet and hands we launch rubber spheres of various sizes at one another. These can be anything from those small foam stress balls, to our medium-sized purple cloud Wal-Mart ball, to the grandest of all, Mommy’s full-sized white Polities ball. Oh, yeah! That'll strait knock the focus out of ya. It is a blast of a time, great exercise, and pretty frequently played throughout the week—especially on Saturdays. But we could play it more.

Cadence is great at a number of things. She’s been a computer user since she was about 2-years-old. She completed a ballet class last year and gave a great performance before an audience of about 2,000. She loves to read—and is pretty darn good at it if I do say so myself. And she can draw up a storm on any parchment lying around the house—whether it's meant to be drawn on or not.

Recently, I noticed that she’s also pretty good with an impromptu song. She can make up a song about lots of things while stringing together a fairly cleaver set of rhyming words to tell her story. I tried to explain to her the other day that people actually get paid for doing that. She promptly turned her attention to something of greater interest and I let the matter drop. I just don’t know sometimes what’ll swim and what’ll sink when it comes to her interests and my introduction of new ideas. But I know it’s important that I affirm and encourage her, and that she is aware of that encouragement.

Really, I just love her little heart, spirit, mind and all. I want to sit her still for a minute or two and tell her just how much I admire her. She’s got to be the coolest little kid I’ve ever known. Thinking about it, there’s really nothing stopping me from telling her just that.

So I will. And more often, too.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A good time for bad news

I recently heard an NPR reporter use an expression as a preface to a question she was about to ask her guest: “…there’s never a good time for bad news.” I had never heard the expression before and it intrigued me. I pondered the validity of the adage.

Is there really never a good time to receive bad news?

There have certainly been times when the last thing I wanted to hear was bad news. It’s usually when I’ve got more pending or failing challenges than mental bandwidth to process them. It’s my own fault. I’m a checklist kind of guy and I often forget the importance of freeing up some of that mental space by simply jotting down a high-level list of things to accomplish by the end of the day. In those moments, bad news would be greeted with the shortest of tongues and the curtest of replies. Not a good time.

But there must be a yang to this yin.

If there are times when it’s a bad idea to try and process bad news, then there must be times when it’s actually a good idea. Sounds strange, but thinking it through, it makes since. But what does a good time for bad news look like? I mean, no one really wants a good time to come to and end. I can’t picture me saying, “Yeah, that’s about enough of this family good-time crap—someone bring on the misery.” So how does this work?

I think it’s somewhat relative. If I’m having a good time with my wife and kids, I wouldn’t want to receive the sort of news that would specifically conclude that good time. But if in the same good-time scenario someone points out that one of our spare home computers just experienced a catastrophic crash, well then phooey, but I can still have a good time with my family. One doesn’t threaten the other really—that is unless I choose to let it, which is another point to consider in this; choice.

In the family-time scenario, I could choose to get all grumpy at the bad news about the spare computer, letting my subconscious become so preoccupied with the anticipation of fighting with baffling software complications that I resolve to excusing myself from the group to address the problem. Or I could choose to stay focused on the joy of being with my family and let the computer issue worry about itself until I’m ready. Choice is the key here.

All in all, I think in this scenario and others like it, it’s considered a good time for bad news because the good time I’m having with my family isn’t directly affected and I can choose to think on and deal with the issue at another time. What’s more, I think these elements of relativity and choice are present with most situations. We can’t always depict how the bad news we’re presented with relates to the good time we’re presently experiencing, but the wisest of men and woman would tell us that we always have a choice in how we decide to address life’s challenges.

By the way, for me, right now is an okay time for bad news. But that’s another post.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

In the way that she should go

"I don't like Church."

As a Christian and a dad, this wasn't the sort of testimony I wanted to hear a child of mine make. But the dreaded words shot from the mouth of my daughter, Cadence and pierced my heart a couple Sundays ago. I was slightly devastated. Okay, maybe a little more than slightly.

It was a protest Cadence was making to her mom's instruction to ready herself for Church. It took me a while to put things into perspective and admit to myself that it wasn’t the end of the world. Initially, all I could think was that we somehow failed as Christian parents. Our daughter was lost in rebellion against God at age five. Woe was me. But I was wise enough not to confront her about the statement that morning. My wife, patient as usual, corralled the child into her room and into an outfit and off to Church we went.

The statement stayed with me for a while and this morning I was especially reminded of the supposed admission of distaste. I was walking up the steps with Cadence when I informed her that it was time to find something to wear and hit the shower so we can get to service in good time. "Awe," she groaned at the news. I couldn't stifle my reaction. "Hey!" I snapped. She went silent and proceeded to her room to pick out an outfit with the most somber of countenance.

Minutes later, she returned to me with her choice of pink sweater and skirt. But while she was in her room, I was taking a moment to consider her feelings—and my reaction. I decided that it would be a good idea to make an admission of my own.

I told her that there are honestly times when I don't want to go to Church (imagine that). I told her that, at times, I'd rather stay home, watch movies, play videogames and try to scrape some self-time together before returning to work on Monday. I let her understand that I empathized with her feelings this morning.

"But," I continued, "it's important that we do go to Church just as it is important that we get out of our warm, comfy beds and go to school and work." It was an inference that I didn't imagine having to draw for her for another seven or eight years when she might legitimately have a few conflicts of interest in the practice of Sunday worship at Church. But here I was with my five-year-old discussing the sacrificial choice we sometimes have to make of the things we want to do for the things we need to do for the nourishment of our faith.

I didn’t get theological on her though. Instead, through a few simple questions, I brought to her attention that which I have observed of her countless times at Church; she has a great time, every time. I reminded her that she's always glad she went to service. That she always enjoys the singing, playing, laughing and learning she experiences with her friends and the children's ministry staff. Remembering theses facts, the idea of leaving the comforts of home didn't seem so tough and we proceeded to get ready, this time with a rather lifted countenance.

So essentially, I had to relax, relate and release some honest, empathetic feelings to help my (expediently) maturing daughter stay on track with the principals we've always tried to instill. As Christian parents, we decided a long time ago to let one proverb serve as the core of our brand of parenting: Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it (Prov. 22:6).

I understand now that success of the 'training' requires empathy and transparency from the trainer.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Redefining beautiful

It is Valentine’s Day and I find myself pondering something I hadn’t in a while. How is the beauty of a woman defined? How does she embody ‘beautiful?’ And how does my personal outlook on the matter match up with a common definition of beautiful?

I click over to an online dictionary to find answers.

Merriam-Webster defines ‘beautiful’ as ‘having qualities of beauty’—yeah, that about clears it up. The online resource also offers these synonyms for the word beautiful: handsome, pretty, fair, lovely. It would appear as though being beautiful is about what’s observed of one’s exterior. But I disagree with the superficial boundaries of this definition.

My redefinition of the term dates back about ten years when I met my wife, Alicia. There’s much to the story of how we began to notice each other, but she was very attractive to me at the onset. Still, it wasn’t until after I took the time to get to know her that I started to really reexamine what beautiful was. Sure she met (and exceeded) the requirements of any published definition of the term, but with every encounter, every conversation, beauty as I knew it was being redefined.

When Alicia and I met as temporary employees at a JFK air cargo company, I was deep into a failing relationship. As I grew away from that situation, I started to allow myself to search my feelings for her. In this, I realized I was far more attracted to the beauty of her persona than her person. There was a genuine, welcoming warmth about her that was not exclusively offered to me. It was just who she was; joyous, empathetic, patient, kind hearted. As we socialized more and more at work together with other temps I began to greatly value her company and friendship. Ultimately, I officially ended the troubled relationship I was in and began my pursuit of Alicia concerned that losing her would be like fumbling the rarest of treasures over the ship’s edge into the open sea (picture Rose at the end of Titanic). I refused to be so cavalier with this find.

As we grew closer together, ‘beautiful’ to me embodied so much more. The term expanded to consider aspects of one’s spirit, mannerisms, personality, integrity; indeed their persona. What’s more, I discovered that these qualities really weren’t marked, marred or modified by the application of perfumes, makeup, jewelry or clothes. I’ve seen my wife’s beauty radiate from under a baseball cap, through a tired glare, behind a dribbly baby. And after nearly nine years of marriage, ‘beautiful’ has become more than a face a woman dons in proper proportions. Instead, I now see it as the blooming of something a woman nurtures over time with faith, love, and humility. It is an unfathomable glow that makes glad a lowly heart. It is that thing that makes men say “when she smiles, the room lights up.” It is warm, it is welcoming, it is natural.

It is the beautiful I’ve come to know as redefined by my wife.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Change, and the push toward it

Here in Georgia, when you cast your vote, you get a little “I’m a Georgia Voter” sticker. With the most recent election, I was just a little prouder of that sticker.

About a year ago, during campaigns for the election of our 44th president, I found myself reading a blog for just about the first time in my life. It was a few clicks off of something I was researching and it captivated me. It was the Rock the Vote blog, and this particular post was discussing a then hot issue facing young and low income voters.

The post was entitled “Supremely Wrong.” I had actually just heard the same issue discussed that morning on my favorite radio station, NPR. Basically, many Americans were up in arms about the development of a strict voter photo ID law that the Supreme Court didn’t knock down as anticipated. Given what I knew and understood about both the photo ID issue and the Rock the Vote organization, I felt compelled to get involved for the first time in a blog environment. I wrote so much that I didn’t think the blog owner would actually post the comment—especially since I wasn’t exactly jumping on the bandwagon of their perspective on the matter. But the thoughts were churning, and I had to speak my piece. To my surprise, the comment was posted and was not contested.

I figured maybe I had something to say that people would be interested in. And so began my foray in to the culture of blogging. Considering the historical significance of that post, I thought it would be appropriate to share it on my own blog (albeit 10 months later). Here is the archived page of the article in question. And here was my comment/rant/motivational speech:

I appreciate efforts that posts like this make to educate voters on the Photo ID issue, but my opinion on the matter is still without form. If voter fraud poses a potential problem, be it in Indiana or elsewhere in the nation why not take proactive steps to safeguard the voting process. Should we only invest our wisdom in hindsight scenarios? While I'm still gathering thoughts on the matter of a voter Photo ID law, I think I'd benefit from some conversation around the validity of the law's foresight. Is the requirement for voters to produce a Photo ID a bad idea? Does it really prevent, or even deter young adults, low-income individuals, minorities and/or the elderly? How?

What I do feel is sad that the supreme court's ruling could actually dampen the surge in the political participation of the nation's youth. I wonder how many copies of Grand Theft Auto IV wouldn't have been purchase if stores were required to card purchasers. How many iPhones would have collected dust on shelves last year if Apple stores required Photo IDs?

Point is our nation's youth is nothing if not resilient and resourceful in the face of a challenge that stands between what they have and what they want. Why should we predict it a lost cause to influence them to have that same vigor about their political voice?

As a minority voter who hails from a low-income family I have managed to form at least this opinion; Rock the Vote should certainly acknowledge the challenge strict photo ID laws present its impactful followers and take part in righting a possible wrong, but with a tone and character consistent with its long standing, eighteen-year mission, mobilize young people to effect positive change--social and political--in their lives and communities. A mantra to which I'd add "against all odds." It is not merely the "ease" of voting that should attract America's youth, but the thrill and the rush of adding one more set of hands to the push toward real change.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

History refines humility

In a passionate fit of want, I can rather efficiently discard years of logic and maturity. I might get so blinded by seeing something better than what I’ve got and want it like my entire existence depended on it. It’s especially bothersome when it happens with the bigger ticket items in life--a larger house, a nicer car, a better job--since these things typically aren’t easily exchanged.

But it’s not like I’m completely void of any appreciation for my current possessions in these moments. I mean, I like my house. I dig my car. I…think my job’s ok. It’s just that suddenly the inferiority of what I’ve got is alarmingly obvious—especially when scrutinized for hours on end against the shinny new object of my want, but that’s besides the point. In these instances, I am inconsolably restless until the wretched wrong is righted.

Evidently, you can take the child out of the temper tantrum, but you can’t take the temper tantrum out of the child.

When I’ve slammed against the immoveable wall of “no” (that is usually my wife) enough times, logic is rattled back into place. I remember that what I have isn’t that bad, has lasted us for quite a while and perhaps still has some usefulness about it. Lately, I find that what really calms me down enough to find content and satisfaction with any current belonging is a humility refined by the historical truth that it wasn’t always this good for my wife and me. In fact, not too long ago, we had much less.

Of late, I examine our past and am reminded of a constant and terrifying threat of foreclosure on a property we owned in New York. I am reminded of the beat-up-but-trusty Buick Skylark we owned and how it was good enough to bring our daughter home from the hospital. I remember the apartments we lived in during our Rhode Island stay that were either too cold or too small to comfortably entertain guests, and the good memories we made in them anyway. I remember the horrid string of jobs that we prayed and worked our way out of fueled by the dream that one day, the pay and promise will be better.

I am reminded. And I am humbled.

Suddenly the things we’ve managed to acquire don’t seem so bad. In fact, when scrutinized against a past as opposed to a future, we’re even living like royalty. I now know better than to be so want-minded that I neglect the fact that today, we’re living yesterday’s wishes, hopes and dreams. Indeed, in a hard, squinting glance into the rearview of this road we’re on, history does well to refine humility. We’ll achieve new dreams, live new hopes and grant greater wishes one day in good time. But today, I am happy. I am content.

And I am humbled.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wanting and fearing more children

My wife and I have very common interests when it comes to building a family—which, as I've come to understand it, makes us pretty fortunate. We've heard about married couples struggling to find common ground in conversations around the size of their family. But we agree that we want as many children as God sees fit to bless us with. Taking that for face value sounds as though we're looking to populate a small village.

Let me explain.

Consider the fact that God promised not to give more than we can bear. Knowledge of this promise offers comfort to the frustrations of actually trying to conceive or even adopt a child with no success. We've been there, my wife and I—with both of our kids. Dealing with the disappointment of negative test results meant a constant if even brief recollection of God's promise. More than likely, the time wasn't right, we weren't ready yet, and somehow a child would have been more than we could bear.

Today, seven months after the birth of our son, our second child, I'm in a slightly different place with regards to expanding our family. I want more children, yes, but for the first time I find myself afraid at the thought.

The pregnancy of our son had its mild complications, but it had its complications. He was born healthy and happy, but an alarmingly full five weeks early. There were pains, discomforts and concerns that weren’t present with the carrying of our daughter five years ago. I know that every pregnancy is different, but that offers little comfort when you're a husband watching your wife get poked, pricked and prodded to make sure everything was developing properly. I was afraid for her. I was afraid for him. And I am afraid that going through that again may yield different results.

I am afraid that we may be pushing our luck.

The advent of a person growing in a person is an amazing thing. There are so many details that have to be just right to, without incident, create this little human being to whom you'll be introduced at the end of nine months, give or take. As a pregnant mother, you have to be so careful with your actions and activities so as not to disrupt the process of life cycling within you. After the successful birth of our son, I began to consider it madness to ever try our luck again.

Then I was reminded of a truth that, in my fear, I had nearly forgotten; I don't believe in luck.

I believe in the blessings of God. I believe in the plans and purposes He authors to which I am not always privy. I believe in His promise; that we will not be given more than we can bear. I believe, though emotionally trying, the mild complications of this last pregnancy were no surprise to God and that at no point did my son's development deviate from His plan—even to the point of being born five weeks early. I believe that to our Father in Heaven, he was right on time.

So we'll continue talks of preparing ourselves to welcome another little one to our family. It's in our hearts to have more children and in our minds to be as responsible as possible with the blessing of another life. It doesn't mean that I am suddenly without my fears and concerns for the many possible outcomes of another pregnancy, but they do seem smaller in the presence of a mighty promise.

And what a mighty promise it is.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I get you now

When we married in 2000, Alicia and I had our cultural differences. I grew up in the South Bronx section of New York City, while she lived most of her life in parts of Trinidad, West Indies. We were worlds apart before meeting for the first time as temporary office employees at an air cargo company in JFK, but we liked each other well enough to become friends. From the start, we had a lot of growing together to do and were truly excited about the relational challenges ahead.

For our honeymoon, we wanted to experience a number of different things. Fortunately, we had a very supportive family on both sides of the isle and were able to chart three magnificent trips. The first was to Orlando, Florida for a week of fun in the sun. It was my first plane ride, first trip to Florida, and first visit to Universal Studios. Alicia, on the other hand, had done it all before. Still, we had an awesome time lazing around our hotel room and putting around in our little rented Hyundai Accent. It was great to have so much time to do next to nothing after dealing with the stresses of organizing a wedding.

Next, we went on a retreat with our Church’s Marriage Enrichment group. The destination was a resort in Parsippany, New Jersey for about half a week's stay. The place looked like a castle in the middle of nowhere and had a storybook enchantment to it. Our time was spent fortifying many of the things we learned through the bible study group about God's purpose for marriage, the significance of your spouse, the roles of the husband and the wife, and more. It was enriching indeed with teachings that successfully govern our joyous marriage to this day.

Be both destinations as inspiring as they surely were, I think the most important of the three came last.

Alicia decided that there was no better an excuse to visit the friends and family in Trinidad she hadn't seen in nearly ten years than the showcasing of her new groom. Really, we both thought it was a pretty exciting idea and made sure we had passports and such in order for the trip. We flew into Port of Spain and spent about a week in the Diego Martin area of the Trinidad island. She was home with all the familiar sights, sounds and tastes, but to say it was rough for me would be an understatement.

In many parts of Trinidad, things like hot water, let alone running water, were still a luxury ill afforded by the common household. Though the country had seen some upgrades to some standards of living since my wife's last visit, there was still the noticeable lack of things we've come to take for granted in the United States. But to paint a picture of a poverty stricken land barren of joy and hope would be to falsify what I actually found—and what I came away with.

The people of Trinidad are inherently happy. I can't say that I understand why totally, but I can say that it is infectious. There rarely was a person we met or passed that didn't offer a soulful smile. And laughter, oh boy do these wonderful people love to laugh. They shared jokes about the high times and the low times. The triumphant and the trying. The problems of the world around them, far more emotionally threatening than the aforementioned lack of running hot water, often couldn't penetrate the audacity and tenacity and deep-hearted joy these people posesed. It was still a rough trip for me getting used to things that were so unlike home, but leaving it all brought only thoughts of returning one day.

The whole experience brought my new bride to focus evermore clearly than any series of activities could have. I strongly recommend that any new couple—married or considering it—spend about a week in the world of each other's childhood. The insight that this experience gave me to the intricacies of my wife were as invaluable as they were innumerable.

I got why she could still manage a laugh when pressures mount. I got why she asked the questions she would about my habits, qualms, quirks and idioms. I got why her smile was like a magnet to my metallic grin, pulling me in with an attraction that was inexplicably natural. I got why her faith in Christ was an applied science, so integrated into all that knew and said and did.

And today, nearly nine years later, I've almost got how she can love me despite me.

Thank you, Trinidad.

Monday, February 9, 2009

About being 'youthful'

Early last month, the weather here in Georgia was as my mom would put it "mad cold" (yeah, she'd put it that way). It was pretty brisk for Georgia standards. Even in the dead of winter, it’s not unusual to enjoy temperatures in the mid 60’s. But for a strange string of days, the thermometer bobbed anywhere from 30 degrees to as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. So naturally, most comers and goers sensibly donned multiple layers of warm clothing to shield themselves from the frigged winter air.

Most, mind you, but not all.

One frosty Friday evening during this seemingly nation-wide cold spell, my father, a New York City resident, and I were talking about how we tend to notice people wearing shorts in the dead of winter. For most my life I looked upon such acts as—how should I put it—dumb. I saw it as a senseless attempt to try and force the season to a quicker conclusion all the while losing feeling in their frostbitten legs with each passing yard. I think I even wrote a poem about it.

I had issues, but I’m better now.

We talked about how each of us began to see shorts in the winter as a more youthful decision than an irrational one. Still, it was a choice we admired from afar with neither of us being brave enough to try it. My father went on to share a recent observation of a mature man exhibiting this youthful behavior and how it instantly inspired him. With me as his witness, he made a personal declaration saying "I'm going to do that one day." Laughingly, my father added "and it might be tomorrow."

Unfortunately, that Saturday in New York meant snow, and lots of it. So my father thought better of the idea. Declaration withstanding, he was disappointed.

That Sunday morning, I was preparing for church and found myself staring frustratingly at my limited wardrobe...again. I didn't know what to wear and felt like I didn't really have much to choose from besides. Suddenly, a thought of Friday’s conversation with my father sprang to mind. In the same instant, I noticed the one pair of summer shorts still hanging amongst the winter cloths and all at once it hit me—I'LL DO IT!

I figured one of us had to try the shorts idea at some point. So before my brain could catch up with my heart, I grabbed the shorts, thought through an outfit and readied myself for an experience. To my surprise, my wife wasn’t opposed to the idea. In fact, she was supportive. She was probably just a curious as my father and I had become about what people think and feel when putting themselves in a summer state of mind. And so, off to Church.

I honestly didn’t notice the cold right off. We were running around getting kids and things in the car so that we weren’t late for service. Maybe I was just too distracted to feel anything. It wasn’t actually until after Church when I really noticed the cold. But I was so deep into a liberating mindset that I truly wasn’t bothered by the 36 degree cold. In a sort of euphoric way, I felt at one with the world. Can’t really explain it, but somehow I did.

I sent a couple photos of my experience to my father, mother, sister and brother after we got home that afternoon. My father’s motivation level received quite a boost at the news and he was absolutely amped to make good on his declaration the following weekend come what may. And he did. Exactly one week later, he threw on his shorts, went out to the front yard of his Saint Albans home and shoveled the snow in 32 degree weather. The man.

In this, I learned a few things about being youthful; it is a state of mind not a fact of age; it is liberating in its defiance of logic; and it is certainly, contagiously, inspiring.

Thanks for the inspiration, Dad.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Church, sometimes had at home.

There was an entirely different intention going into this Sunday morning. My wife and I wanted to be sure to head to Church today if for no other reason than because we've missed a couple services in the weeks past. It's a great, comfortable, community minded, youthful sort of Church and we're starting to miss the lessons. But our plans of getting ourselves and our two kids ready were laid to rest as the morning unfolded. 

Our daughter has a rather full head of hair that just so happened to need re-braiding before we went out in public at all. She began to look as though a giant, black fuzzy spider had attached itself to her head. This meant work for my wife, lots of work. Then there was me, who for some reason couldn't get out of bed. Okay, I totally stayed up too late last night playing Xbox and watching movies, but that's besides the point. Our son was oddly the least of our troubles as he napped a little longer than usual while my wife worked overtime on our daughter's hair. 

Needless to say, we didn't make it. We certainly could have (and should have) done better preparing ourselves this morning to not only make it to Church, but make it on time for a change. But I didn't beat up myself about it like I usually would after a failed mission. I felt God wanted us to gather together and fellowship in his name this morning, but remembered that no love is lost because we miss a Sunday or two. Still, I regretted not getting out to the service. 

Now, in our home we can easily go a whole day with three out of four of us spending hours at a time in different parts of the house, engaged in different activities. But not this morning. For some reason, we were drawn together and ended up spending a great portion of the latter half of the morning and early afternoon laughing, playing, gaming, eating, and drawing together. It was natural, nurturing and memorable. 

In my mind, it was Church.

I think that, while blessed and holy the building that holds the congregation that gathers together on Sunday and throughout the week, the people themselves are the Church and they bring Christ with them to the building. Throughout the bible we are taught that, when we accept Him, Jesus resides in our hearts. Our hearts, not our buildings. 

So when a day like today comes along, and the best laid plans go awry, I'll keep the school of thought that the gathering and togetherness of my little congregation of four is too considered Church. 

And Church is sometimes had at home. 

Saturday, February 7, 2009

It ain't all random. Some of it's planned.

Recently, I was changing my son on his changing table and partook in what I think was something rather remarkable. I needed a toy or something to occupy his hands so that I'd have fewer obstacles in my way as I attempted to change his diaper. Finding nothing better nearby, I handed him a fresh diaper saying "hold this for a second." I added: "and don't put it in your mouth."

A feeble request, or so I thought.

Promptly, my 6-month-old son put the double fisted diaper on a slow but deliberate path to his mouth. Offering him a stern eye and tone I said "No. Don't put that in your mouth." Now, I didn't yell at him and there was hardly an inflection to my voice, but amazingly, this kid begins to slowly lower the diaper back toward his chest. I put a poker face on trying my darndest not to look impressed. Did what I think just happened happen?

I'm not the flash like my wife when it comes to changing my son's diaper, so I'm still working on him a few moments later when I began to notice the diaper leave my periphery. Yeah, it was once again headed to that dribble-soaked tool with which my son explores the world and all in it; his mouth. I repeated my command much in the same manner as before and was again surprised by the reaction. The diaper was lowered and this time without a repeat attempt. No way was this random.

There are a number of ways to explain away what actually happened. He may have simply thought the words I was saying were at the moment slightly more interesting than the diaper he was about to sample. Who knows. But the profound thing it reminded me of as a dad was that we as parents should underestimate what our children are really capable of. There is little doubt that he hadn't a clue what exactly I was saying, but I probably wouldn't have thought that he would at this point in life be able to fathom what I was "meaning." I think that's just what he did, twice.

Just today I saw a commercial featuring Magic Johnson. In it he mentions that he was trained as a child to earn his spending money as opposed to being given an allowance. By the age of 10, Mr. Johnson continues, he owned his own business cutting lawns. Fast forward to the business smarts he seems to benefit from today and you can't help but to attribute that to a foundation set in the concept of earning a living. Someone in his family (mother, father or both) saw that this kid was capable of staying on task and working toward a goal, something many adults still can't get right today. And by the age of 10, a little entrepreneur was out there earning his own.

My son's little show of understanding was a clear reminder of the potential kids hold. It was a reminder of the responsibility I have as a parent to help them appropriately measure that potential in attempts to map the innumerable paths of their future.

Indeed, even with an infant, it ain't all random. Some of it's planned.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The guy in the mirror

I look in the mirror sometimes and find myself asking, who are you really? What are you into? Where did you come from?

What are you made of?

Surprisingly, I like that I'm at a point in my life where I'm really trying to find answers to those questions. Surprising because growing up in the Bronx, we kids prided ourselves on "keeping it real" and "staying true to ourselves." Questioning one's own identity was like a sign of weakness. But we had no idea who we were, where we were going, where we even came from. Most of us barely understood where we were in the world; the cultural richness of one of the five boroughs that comprised the famed New York City.

We were just kids trying to make our mark on the tiny piece of land that was our world. Our block. Our 'hood. But I'm not a kid anymore (well, for the most part I'm not).

Today, as a husband and a dad, my wife and daughter have bestowed upon me many flattering labels; wonderful, awesome, fun, so cool, creative, even the occasional 'brilliant.' For a long time it was hard for me to accept those bestowments. Then I began to appreciate the fact that these people undoubtedly know me better than anyone on the plant. Add to that the natural tendency we have to always be openly honest with each other—if I sucked for some reason at some thing, my 6-year-old daughter would politely make me aware. So all things considered, they probably know—and mean what they're talking about.

I believe it true for many people that we really do become the influences with which we surround ourselves. Think about how similar people can sometimes be to their closest friend or relative. Consider the demeanor of a kid that listens to nothing but Hip Hop, Country or Jazz. Whether consciously or subconsciously, be it friends, family, movies, co-workers, or music, like the old adage states, you are the company you keep.

So maybe in trying to figure out the guy in the mirror, I should consider that he's made up of a little of everything else that mirror reflects. My faith, my wife, my daughter, my son, my home, my profession, my Xbox (yeah, definitely my Xbox). I am a bit of all the influences with which I choose to surround myself.

And they are a bit of me.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Vacation? What's the point?!

Now and then I have one of those sort of days. The kind that makes your mind escape to the thought of getting away from it all. No overgrown lawn, no pesky computer problems, no unrealistic deadlines, no traffic jam. Just you, the sun, a warm breeze and the laughter of your family around you. A good string of days that make all but forgotten the pile of poop waiting for you to come back with the shovel.

All but forgotten (i.e. not actually forgotten).

I struggled for years with the idea of taking a vacation. Initially, my wife and I just couldn't afford it so that would settle any debate on whether or not we should. But even in those times, I had this notion of vacations being pointless. I suppose that stems from not growing up taking annual vacations with the family. So, as I grew older I began to consider the concept of vacationing.

The sum of my understanding was that vacations often served as the temporary release valve for the mounting pressures of adulthood. Families would pile into the car, or board a plane, or whatever and wave good riddance to a normal existence for a week or so of adventurous good times.

As I examined this, still not having taken a vacation myself, I realized that my problem with the whole idea of getting away for a while was...well the "getting away for a while" part.

It just seemed as though people went on vacation to escape life for a few days—which is fine and all, but don't they have to come back? And when they return, won't said pile of poop just be sitting there in the front yard awaiting their return? Then what's the point of that?!

I asked myself (and my wife) that question up until we took our very first bonafide family vacation in mid 2007. We strapped our then 4-year-old daughter into her car seat in our cool PT Cruiser and went road-tripin' from Atlanta to Orlando for about a week. The time together was awesome and it totally altered my perspective.

Turns out there's nothing wrong with the concept of stepping back from a set of stubborn problems to take a little breather. I realized that I do it all the time at home and at work. A vacation is just a slightly larger step back for a slightly deeper breather in unison with loved ones who may actually need the same temporary relief from their own various pressures.

Sure there will likely be the same bit of junk awaiting your return. But within reason, I now say let it wait because, to the point of a vacation, relief—however temporary—helps win back a clearer, sharper mind to deal with it all when you get home again.

Besides, a little poop is good for the lawn.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Did he say flee from temptation?

In a number of places in the Bible the dangers of temptations are discussed. 2 Timothy 2:22 talks about fleeing from youthful lusts. 1 Corinthians 6:18 instructs us to flee from sexual immorality. Heavy stuff. Warnings we should all heed daily, right?

But the bible doesn't say anything about candy. [Insert mischievous smirk]

I'm not overweight, but I am smart enough to know that every blaze begins with a little flame. Every storm with a single raindrop. Every--alright, you get the picture. So I try to at least be conscious about the things (and quantities) I chose to consume. With the AA Sponsor-like help of my wife, I gravitate toward veggies, the occasional fruit, multivitamins and overall healthy meals. I don't eat out too often and I steer as clear as I can of sodas and your garden variety junk foods. I know, it sounds like a life of taste bud neglect, but it isn't. And eight years in, I've found these habits to be easy on the belly, good for the mind, and great for the wallet.

However, you would think that after so many years of this sort of smart eating I'd be impervious to the addictive temptations of a delicious, chocolaty treat. Uh, nope.

I'd been driving around with some leftover bags of candy that we didn't use at our daughter's recent birthday party. The plan was to be frugal and return them to Target whenever heading in that direction. Yet there they sat, day after day, trip after trip. I honestly must have passed Target 7 to 10 times in the last couple of weeks. No doubt, I was tempted.

I even tried "smart" things like putting a jacket or hat over the Target bag before heading for work in the morning ala out of sight, out of mind. It seemed that somewhere deep down in the recesses of my subconscious (okay, maybe not that deep) I knew that if I got to work and saw the bag in the back seat, I'd instinctively grab it and all would be lost.

Guess what, all was lost.

I didn't flee to Target to return the temptation that took residence in my back seat. In fact, in a matter of an afternoon, I managed to down about four 2-packs of Kit-Kats and one Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. I so caved.

The funny thing is that I wasn't suddenly some lesser version of myself. I was still me; smart dietary decisions and all. So why was it so easy to concede to the temptation? Why didn't more than eight years of developing smart eating habits prevail?

Why? Because we weren't designed to fight temptation—we're designed to flee!

The Bible doesn't say "fight your way through the detrimental wants of life and emerge victorious over your tantalizing temptations." In contrast, it does say in James 4:7 to "resist the devil." Think about that; the temptations we face are stronger than Satin. Like, whoa.

While I'm not going to hell for this (I hope), I do regret taking the warning too casually. It's not like I cheated on my wife. No. It was just some candy. But you get the moral here. Just one flame can undo years of growth.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jobs are like outfits...

I realized recently that children out grow things. Okay, an obvious if not late revelation considering my daughter was already 5 years old, but bear with me. What do we do when a child out grows an outfit? Typically, we transfer it to new ownership. It gets handed down to a younger family member, donated to a cause, or sold on Craig's List. One way or another, if the outfit is still in fairly good condition, it is found a new owner.

Now, let's examine what happened here.

The outfit was a great purchase. It definitely looked good on the kid for a satisfactory period of time. But the child grew (who would have thunk it) and that great outfit just doesn't fit like it use to. "Still," says the frugal Dad "we can get a few more wears out of it." Besides, it's become a part of the kid's whole image. Inevitably, the outfit fits like it was stolen from a toddler and it's got to go. It just doesn’t fit its owner anymore.

Now the revelation: Jobs are like outfits. You get one and it's a great fit. Good hours, good compensation, good commute. But then you begin to feel that proverbial draft around your ankles. This outfit just doesn't fall on you like it use to. What happened? Through lifestyle changes and the realization of values, dreams and passions, you outgrew it, that's what.

Let's be clear here, much like that kid's outfit, this job of yours is still a pretty good find. More than likely you've taken pretty good care of it over the years. The job isn't the problem. You plus the job is the problem. It would look fantastic on someone else.

I know too few people who have discovered some version of this philosophy. Fewer still who have acted upon it once discovered—especially in this troubled economy. But look, the current job climate is rough, yes. Jobs are being shed by the hundreds, true and most unfortunate. Those who are still employed today seem to operate ever aware of an axe looming over their head brandishing a name crudly carved into the handle: "The Layoffer." It could drop and seal the fate of their employment status at any moment.

But let us ask ourselves and answer honestly, without passion or prejudice; at what point in our careers was such a threat not present?

Most of us are well aware of that friendly policy our company brought to our attention back when we were hired. You know the one about how you can be let go at any time for any reason. If you don't know, believe me, it's there. And it always has been.

That doesn't make light of today's job market, nor is that my intention. The point is, considering that The Layoffer axe isn't new—the threat was always there we're just reminded of its presence—are we going to keep walking around miserable in an outfit that just doesn't fit anymore for the sake of being dressed? Or are we going to spend whatever time we can muster to define those personality tendencies, skills and abilities, values, dreams and passions and don a job perfect for who we've become? One in which we can truly excel and add near indispensable value to our employer.

That employer might even be the person in the mirror. [Not your wives guys, the other person.]

For the sake of our families and futures, finding the outfit that's right for you is the answer, no matter what the economy. For some great fashion tips (have I killed this metaphor yet?), check out Dan Miller's blog at

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pardon me, but does this suck to you too?

When I was younger, I use to write poems galore. Every day, every place, every moment was worthy of a portrait of poetry, and so I wrote like mad. I don't know if I had a lot more to say then than I do now, but I admire those times and am occasionally tempted to review a few old poems and wax poetic for a bit.

That old temptress came around again recently. I blew the dust off the medium sized cardboard moving box and cracked open one of the first notebooks I saw.

As I snuggled up to the tattered, spiral bound little book of treasure, I began to get this strange feeling. It took me by surprise. I knew I'd be feeling something when I started to revisit my works, but not this. To my dismay, I was...underwhelmed.

In fact, after the first 15 poems or so, underwhelmed devolved to a rather deep disappointment. I thought I was better than what I was reading. At times I wondered "who wrote this crap?" What happened? Why didn't anyone tell me I sucked?

It took many poems and pages and notebooks (and days) later for me to come to my senses. So I wasn't some master poet like I might have thought all these years. But I was young, inexperienced, open, curious, ambitious. Back then, I worked into each poem what life offered at the time; age, friends, school, girlfriend, work, wants. I wrote from the prospective of someone who has seen little in life yet, but was looking for so much. I realized that, in essence after all, I was a poet.

Then I had a most important revelation; I am who I am because I was who I was. Sounds simple and hardly profound, but when I examined the thought, my underwhelming poetry became as important to me as the fruitless doodles of the most famed artist.

I realized that because of my poetry, I began to take an interest in writing lyrics for songs. That lead to the pursuit of a career in the music business while in high school, which landed me a number of paid internships in New York City, which meant I never had to work a day in my neighborhood supermarket in the South Bronx like many did.

Because of my poetry, I tried my hand at graphic art, attended trade school at night for visual communications, and worked hard to be one of the best future creatives in my class. Because of my poetry, I learned early in life how to express love for someone, how to tell the difference between good and bad relationships, and made the decision to leave the comfort of the relationship I knew for the one I knew was meant to last.

Indeed, largely due to a dusty box of underwhelming works that never stood a chance to uphold my high expectations, I was fortunate enough to have lived a life that would likely have only been a dream without the gift of poetry. In that revelation, I found new respect for who I was and what I had to say.

I'm looking forward to the next tattered notebook.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wait 'til you're 30

30th birthday German Chocolate cake as crafted by me my wife and our daughterOkay, full disclosure here, I was definitely a kid that hated hearing the phrase "you'll understand when you're older." It was worse yet when someone hit me with a "you're too young to understand." Ouch. It was the Kryptonite of my youth that made powerless all my logic, made moot any argument. I had no counter attack in my repertory against "you'll understand when you're older."

Maybe it's because I wanted so badly to be seen as mature for my age; a cut above the average kid with the ability to fathom the complexities of life that would surely baffle any ordinary kid. Indeed, a superhero of the mind. Maybe.

Looking back now, I don't actually think I had a problem with the concept of understanding something when I'm older. I understood the notion of living and learning--that your collection of experiences increase with time giving new perspectives from which to view the matters of life. I got that and was more or less alright with the idea. What I think I really had a problem with was the idea of an indefinite wait.

Now if someone had told me "wait until you're 30," maybe I would have been encouraged by sight of a light at the end of the tunnel. More than likely I would have collapsed in a fit of impatience, but at least there would have been some sense of finality when the dust settled.

The fact is I learned and understood a lot by the time I turned 30. I don't believe there was any proverbial turning point in my life on my birthday. As was usual, there was no big celebration, no great gala and certainly no sudden angelic glow from the heavens just above my head. My wife, daughter and I baked a German Chocolate cake. It was a quite June day in 2008, but one that made me realize just how much I've come to understand in recent years about living, loving and laughing.

I find myself enjoying a lot more of life's offerings on this side of 30. I find myself more accepting of things and people that I struggled with when I was 14, 18 or 25. I've begun to understand the differences between the person and the decisions they make and how to love accordingly. Even the importance of humor has found new meaning in my life.

I've still got a ways to go, but I'm amazed daily at just how many of the things I've grown to appreciate and treasure I thought trivial a mere few years ago. Maybe 30 is the age of reason. Maybe I'm a late bloomer. Whatever the case, I'm glad I've discovered that the light at the tunnel's end actually does a pretty good job of illuminating the road ahead.

live, love, laugh