Moronic Musings

and other junk as it occurs to me.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Another Decade, Another Dollar

Well, it's December 31, 2009 and here we are.  We of the human race have somehow managed to make it to the end of another decade without destroying ourselves or being the victims of a global cataclysm.  Just exactly how we managed to survive is beyond me, given our propensity for war, calamity and the building of Large Hadron Colliders.  But still, here we are.  I'm deeply disappointed by the fact that a full decade into the 21st century we still don't have flying cars or android butlers, but I'm nevertheless encouraged that we haven't nuked ourselves out of existence and galactic memory.

My friends on that mother of all social networking sites, Facebook, are posting all kinds of questions about what people's new year's resolutions are, what highlights they hit in 2009, and even if their friends can sum the year up in two words (mine was "fine mess").  Being the introspective sort that I am, I'd rather take a look at what I've learned this year:

1. I've learned that no matter how I try to be something I am not, the Me that really is comes through anyway, so I might as well just be the original me.  I've also learned that the "real me" is actually an okay person, and I'm accepting that.  I don't think that I'm trying to meet some arbitrary, unattainable standard like I have for so long.  I have goals and ambitions that I work toward, but I'm no longer quite as hard on myself as I used to be.

2. I learned that Mojitos are tasty.

3. I've learned that I do not have to allow other people's hangups and problems become mine.  If you have your own special brand of crazy, good for you.  I don't need any; I'm good.  As Jack Nicholson so eloquently put it in As Good As It Gets, "Go sell crazy someplace else.  We're all stocked up here."  Some people seem to make it their life's work to draw other people into the morass that is their self-induced tragedy, and I've unfortunately fallen into that in the past.  Thankfully, I have a few friends around me who are so very grounded and sensible that I've been able to learn from their examples and be more conscientious about my own psychological defenses.  Basically, if you try to bring the drama, I'm gonna shut you down.

4. It's not a good idea to eat Italian for lunch and Mexican for dinner.  Trust me on this.

5. I have amazing friends who support me even when I don't think I deserve it.  Two things have reminded me of this in the past few months: my initiating this blog and my 40th birthday party.  I have received some very meaningful encouragement about my writing from people whom I admire and respect, and it has been the main reason that I'm still trying to get on here and write.  I know this is my first entry in over a month, but I'm still at it.  My 40th birthday party was better than I had hoped for.  I told Jen that I wanted a "big-ass party" for that milestone birthday, and she delivered.  Robin and Carmen, two of my dearest friends from high school, actually flew up from Florida for the event.  Just seeing them was enough to make it a chart topper, but there were so many of my friends, co-workers and family there that I felt like Lou Gehrig: " -ay-ay... I consider myeslf -elf-elf... the luckiest -est-est man -an-an... on the face -ace-ace... of the Earth -earth-earth."  Thank you, friends old and new.  Thank you, family.  And thank you, Sue, for the use of your beautiful home.

6. Love can get you through a lot of crap.  This sounds oversimplified, but it's true.  It doesn't matter if it's issues involving kids, friends, or your spouse.  If you love them and you mean it and - and this is the important part - you show it, things can and almost always will work out.  This year, Jen and I have seen our family healed in ways that we had only hoped for.  We're still very much a work in progress, but we're gaining ground every day.  As I write this, 3 of our 4 kids are here with us playing Rock Band II and having a great time.  The fourth is at work and will be here later.  1 Peter 4:8 (NIV) says "Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins."  This is the truth; I've seen it firsthand.

That's my list of a few things I've learned in 2009.  What about you?  Learn anything good?  Let me hear about it.

Happy New Year!  May you be blessed and enriched in 2010.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pink Roller Skates and The Gift Of Time

Yesterday was my daughter Emily’s birthday, and Jen and I gave Sweet Pea something that she’s been wanting for a year: a pair of pink roller skates. She started asking for them the first time she saw our smooth concrete basement floor. It was as if a light bulb went on. She walked down the stairs, took one look around and proclaimed “this would be perfect for skating!” Sweet Pea is very much like Junie B. Jones, the beloved character about whom Barbara Park writes: opinionated and not very good at screening her words. I have no idea where she gets these traits, but that’s neither here nor there. When Jen and I presented her with her gift, her eyes lit up and she immediately and unabashedly exclaimed “this is the best present I ever got!” She immediately dashed off to change out of her mermaid costume (yes, you read that right. We’re talking about Sweet Pea here, after all) and returned to try out her new skates. I wasn’t there later, but I understand that there was something of a scuffle when her mother tried removing them from her feet at bedtime. Yeah, that gift was definitely a winner.
Today I was chatting with Sue, a friend who also happens to be my boss at work. The topic of our talk started with Sweet Pea’s skates and turned to a pair of skates Sue received from her grandfather when she was a little girl. She told me that the skates were her most favorite gift of all those she had ever received as a child. This spurred a discussion about how very often children put a great deal of value on gifts that adults don’t give a second thought. That led to observations on how certain moments a parent spends with a child can often take on very special importance to that child, but the adult may never realize it. For example, I have a fond memory of getting into a water fight with my mom when I was about 11. My brother, sister and I were outside and my mom was in the kitchen doing dishes. I was running the hose and, um, accidentally sprayed Mom through the window. The next thing I knew, Mom was tossing a glassful of water through the screen at me. Of course, H2O bedlam ensued. Afterward, Mom realized that her watch had been ruined. Rather than being upset, she just shrugged it off, almost as if to say that it was a small price to pay for that kind of fun. That moment has stayed with me for almost thirty years. I don’t know if my mom even remembers it, but I sure do.
So that’s the point of this little exercise in verbosity. We spend so much time preoccupied by life’s big issues that we frequently forget that the detours are life, too. In fact, it’s in the little cul-de-sacs of our day that the most potential for joy exists. Kids remember a lot, and they remember things that we never expect them to. So my goal is this: when I’m spending time with my kids, I am going to try to be more aware of each moment. Moments like Sonny coming down into the basement to help me with the platform bed or like Sweet Pea standing there patiently – kind of – while I strapped on her knee pads and helmet before she took a few laps around her apartment parking lot. I am going to be more conscientious of this because I have no idea which activity I engage in with them will turn into a precious memory. Most imperative is that I take the time to provide moments that can turn into heirlooms. Think about it. It this speaks to you, act accordingly. Your kid will remember you all the better for it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Stand Back! He Has A Hammer!

I built a bed. Me. All by myself. My wife Jen e-mailed me directions from (she’s subtle that way) last week, so on Saturday I went to the hardware store and bought the lumber and screws I’d need to get the job done. Of course, I was short some tools and had to purchase those too, but overall it wasn’t such a big ordeal. I followed the directions closely and before I knew it I was looking at a great little platform bed. I’ve puttered around with projects before; I have installed new faucets, ceiling fans and such. But this time I actually built something from raw materials from start to finish.
After I finished building the bed, I stood back and felt pretty good. Okay, so what if I didn’t actually come up with the plans for the bed? I’m not a carpenter, but the thing turned out pretty well. Which led me to wonder: why don’t I build more stuff? Over the years, why haven’t I made things that are useful and maybe even beautiful? In a way, I have always admired and even been a little envious of artisans who build things of utility that are also beautiful. Think Shaker furniture and grandfather clocks, that kind of thing. I envy them not so much because of the skill they possess, but because long after they’re gone, the works of their hands will still exist.
But upon reflection, we can all leave things behind whether we’re builders of fine objects or not. Isn’t that the real job of parents? To leave behind children who not only pass on legacy, but continue the work of making the world a better place? And not just children. We also leave behind our life’s work, be it professional or volunteer work. We might also leave behind our words, if we’re fortunate. Even if it’s not in the form of great works of literature, maybe it can be in letters to those we love so that they can gain some insight into what we found precious and worth remembering.
So I guess the point is this: build something that will last, whether it’s made out of wood, stone, words... or maybe even your own DNA. Get off Facebook and connect with someone in a way that they’ll remember always. My grandfather left things with me that I’ll leave with my kids, God willing, and that they’ll leave with theirs. Now that’s building something.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Why I Carry A Pocket Knife and Other Things You've Always Wanted to Know

When I was a kid, there was one person to whom I looked up more than anyone else on the planet. He was the wisest, smartest, kindest and funniest person I knew: Howard Amos Cone. He was my mother's father, my Granddad Cone. My brother, sister and I spent nearly every weekend of our childhood at my grandparents' home in Hudson, Florida. Granddad wasn't the kind of grandfather who was active and a goer and doer. He had emphysema as a result of a lifetime of smoking and exposure to photography chemicals, and was necessarily limited in his physical activity. Even so, I never felt trapped in or bored when I was with him. Granddad had a story for every occasion, and the man knew how to do everything. Whether it was tying a certain type of knot, coming up with witty plays on words or making slingshots, he was always up to the task.

I've known kids whose grandfathers took them hunting, taught them how to fix cars, went to the races with them, and every other manly activity you can name. All those things are great, but what my Granddad did for me was even better. He taught that it's possible to live with a manly grace that goes beyond machismo. He taught me how I should speak to women, how I should relate to children, and how I should carry myself with respect and confidence. He taught me that one's inner life can be even richer than that of the wealthiest magnate. He showed me the joy and the value of the written word and, just as importantly, that you should never, ever be without a sharp pocket knife. He also instilled in me the love of crossword puzzles.

All our lives, we're told to be individuals and to be nonconformists. We should find our own path in life, blaze our own trails. Believe me, I'm all about that; I don't want to ever be accused of being a clone of anyone. Even so, there is a definite value in seeking and identifying those traits in others that we admire and then emulating them. Why do kids have posters of sports stars on their walls? They recognize greatness and want to imitate it. What we need to show them even more than physical prowess is exceptional character, intellectual curiosity and the ability to sustain healthy relationships with others. We parents learn (often the hard way) that kids watch everything we do. More often than we'd like them to, they imitate us. Maybe we should keep that in mind during our everyday comings and goings, eh?

Granddad, if you're reading this - and I don't doubt that you are - I hope I'm someone you're proud of. I may not be just like you, but I saw the greatness in you and am trying my best to be the kind of man that you were. I hope I'm doing okay so far.

But just for the record, Granddad, I'm absolutely rocking the crosswords.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Crisis Averted; Let's Work A Crossword.

I am very proud of my lovely wife, Jen. We recently had a situation in our home that required some high level parenting skills. Being that I'm a step-dad, my role in this situation was more to observe, offer my insights, then duck and cover. Jen weighed the options available, rolled up her sleeves and did what had to be done. I won't go into details here; that stuff is moot. What's important is that about 2 or 3 years ago, Jen admittedly wouldn't have (or couldn't have) handled the events the way she did. She just didn't have the capacity or the knowledge of what to do. She realized this, however, and began working toward being a better mother and a better person.

Besides taking an opportunity to gratuitously brag about my wife, I bring this up because I've always been amazed at the capacity people have to grow and improve, no matter where they come from or what they've been through. The best kind of people to have around you are people who are continuously seeking to improve upon their knowledge, abilities and character. Show me a person who doesn't live this way, and I'll show you a person who has already peaked and is just running on fumes.

It doesn't take a lot of time or effort to be a lifelong learner. What it does require is a commitment. It doesn't matter if you work a crossword every morning, check the tip of the day on your favorite geek site or buy your bimonthly copy of Mental Floss. Just do something. The benefits can be tangible. Research shows that a lack of education can even result in a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's (see one article here).

So let's make the choice to get off our brains and learn something today. You don't have to research for a thesis. Just learn something. You'll be richer for the experience, you'll have more to contribute to the world, and you might even impress your friends while playing Cranium. Hey, maybe you'll meet your soul mate. Everyone knows that smarts are sexy. Right?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Write. Now.

Today I was chatting with Brandi, a very groovy person who could best be described as my step-niece-in-law. Not a particularly smooth categorization, but it's accurate. Anyway, she and I got on the topic of wanting to write. I'm not talking about rants and raves and pithy observations on life in a blog; I mean really writing. Books. You've probably heard the old saw that everyone has at least one good book inside. If that's actually the case, I think how that book got there is between the individual and his or her surgeon. But I digress. My step-niece-in-law Brandi feels that sharing her experiences may help make a difference in the life of someone who is going through the same trials and tribulations that she survived, and I tend to agree. There is something about common experience that brings people together and promotes healing. I hope that she writes that book, and I hope it does, indeed, make a difference for someone.
To me, writing anything more than a few paragraphs is pretty much the same as taking down the Great Wall of China with a soup spoon. Even though I know it's a matter of (in very simple terms) getting an idea for a plot, framing out the story and just getting down to it, the thought is still quite daunting. One of my favorite writers, Dean Koontz, says that he usually writes 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. He also mentions that he sometimes writes on the seventh day too, but only for a few hours so as to give himself a break. I'm sorry, but it just never occurred to me that the creative spirit of an artist could ever coexist with such Spartan discipline. How does he do it?! He just... does.  Having that kind of focus is, for me, the brass ring. I aspire to it, as we all should aspire to something. How am I going to get there?I guess the same way anyone learns anything; crawl, walk, run. Maybe by the time I’m in the Happydale Retirement Home for Aging Hipsters and Out-Of-Work Interpreters, I’ll have a manuscript.
If I were to write a book, I think I’d like it to have cool stuff like vampires and zombies. No, wait! Maybe it could be about a nefarious international plot to topple the world’s leading chocolate makers, the resulting chaos of which would be far worse than any zombie apocalypse. That would be truly terrifying. Dang, I should copyright this immediately.
So take a moment to think about what you might like to write a book about. Got it? Okay... why aren’t you writing about it?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Renewed Friendships and the Art of Being Oneself

Yesterday I had the great good fortune to find a dear friend with whom I had lost contact years ago. I say I found her, but in truth it was another good friend who found her via Facebook. Cast whatever aspersions you may on that behemoth of a social networking site, but I have found it to be a blessing when it comes to reestablishing old friendships. Just since yesterday we've caught one another up on the goings-on in our lives and have even begun to fall back into the same kind of banter that we enjoyed so many years ago.

My friend has always been a one-woman riot. She would spontaneously affect a Swedish accent for no good reason. She improvised mini plays that we performed during class, and she generally drove our teachers crazy with her antics. I, of course, had nothing to do with any of this. Ahem. She was into riding motorcycles. She was a free spirit, which to my limited (and somewhat warped) experience was something wondrous. She was gloriously imperfect and didn't care who knew it. She was, in a word, herself.

Which makes me wonder: What makes us stop being ourselves? At what point in our young lives do we decide that it's easier to just be what everyone expects us to be? Why do some people remain true to themselves when everyone around them is trying to force them into conformity with the majority? The result of caving in to this pressure is never positive. I think a lot of therapy could be summed up in "Hey, be yourself again. No, your real self. The one that you were before you got lazy and went crazy. Quit faking perfection and let people see your flaws." of course, that would cut hours on the couch back dramatically, and psychiatrists most likely wouldn't go for it.

I'm slowly learning what it's like to be my old self again. My really old self. That inquisitive, excited, oops-I-dropped-it, fault-ridden four year-old self who was unlike anyone else who has ever lived, or ever will. It's very liberating. I'm not completely there, and I likely never will be because of all the layers of sameness that the world has piled and continues to pile on me. But I'm still heading in that direction. I want to be the old guy in the nursing home whom the staff all call a character. You know, the one who wears loud shirts, leers at the women and says really inappropriate things. I think I already have the garish clothing thing down - at least when I'm not interpreting. As for the ogling women and saying inappropriate things, it's a work in progress.

My wife and co-workers will probably tell you that I'm doing well, but I'm giving myself extra homework so I'm ahead of the game when my kids stick me in the Happydale Retirement Home for Aging Hipsters and Out-Of-Work Interpreters.

Monday, October 12, 2009


In true ADHD fashion, I started a blog and then never returned to it. I have no idea if I will be able to maintain this one, but if one doesn't try, one fails by default, right?

Life is good. That's not just a slogan, you know. It's not easy; it never is. But it can be good, no matter what events occur. I think the difference lies in one's perspective and what one looks for. I recently read an article about luck. The writer noticed that people who consider themselves lucky are those who don't focus on specific things, but rather take in everything around them. People who identify themselves as unlucky tend to ignore the big picture and only watch for particular things. In other words, you can spend so much time looking out to sea for your ship to come in that you miss the train to paradise that's been sitting right behind you, waiting to take you on a fantastic journey.

While everyone misses their fair share of connections in life, it's much easier to find the right path when you step back and look at the whole map. So I guess that's my message for today: make sure you're not squinting at the same little spot all the time. Relax and take a look around. You may spot something you've never seen before, a path you've never taken. Who knows, it might bring you to a place where you can honestly state that your life is good.