Families, Choices and Bravery

One of the biggest ‘secrets’ that nobody was supposed to talk about at my wife’s family’s reunion was the fact that one of our nephews was making some big life choices, and not doing what the family expected. It was supposed to be a secret, so naturally it was one of the most discussed things at the reunion.

My nephew was looking for something, something he really wanted. The majority of the adults in the family were sure he would ‘find it’ the same way they did (whether they actually found what they were looking for is a subject for another day…). The majority of the family assumed he would spend a couple of years doing church service and then get a bachelor’s degree and enter the work force in some engineering or construction related field. Instead my nephew is joining the United States Marine Corps…

Choosing between honorable paths

Regular readers of this blog already know that I am a person of faith and I have absolutely nothing against worthy service to God. What less of you may know it that I am also a military brat (as well as being a professor’s kid…). I see honor in joining the military as well. So, this leaves us with a question… How do you choose between two good paths?

Well, you have to choose the path that is right for you. And, that might not mean the path that ‘they’ say is the right one!

There are lots of tools to use: talking to family, internet research, introspection… you might even want to throw a little prayer and fasting on that list if it helps you. But the bottom line is that if you are going to commit your life to something it needs to be worth it and it needs to be the right thing for you. It’s a decision that only you can make. Others can help, but they can’t make it for you.

And that’s it for this one dear reader. Today I think I’ll end with a joke…

One day not so very long ago a meeting was held for top leaders in the United States military. The meeting was held at Fort Benning Georgia where the army trains paratroopers, some of their bravest soldiers. Naturally the discussion quickly turned to bravery.

“I’ll show you what bravery is,” an Army general said. He called over one of his soldiers and issued an order. “Soldier, go off that jump tower with no repelling line and no parachute.”

The soldier climbed the tower. He looked down. You could tell he was scared but he stepped off the edge. Seconds later he splattered on the ground at the base of the tower.

An Airforce general shook his head. “No, that’s not bravery. Watch this. Airmen! Go off that tower with no repelling line and no parachute. Do it with style!”

Like the soldier the airman climbed the tower. Unwilling to look scared in front of the general the airman started at the back of the tower. He raised his arms like the majestic wings of one of the big bombers and ran off the platform. A few seconds later he splattered on the ground at the base of the tower.

“No,” a Marine Corps general said, “As usual we’ll be the ones to get it done.” He spotted one of his marines nearby and shouted “Marine! Off that tower! No repelling rig! No parachute!”

The generals laughed briefly when the marine ran the opposite direction, but soon he was back and scurried up the tower loaded down with several grenades and machine gun.

At the top of the tower the marine hurled grenades down before him. When he ran out of grenades he grabbed his machine gun and went off the tower firing the whole way down. In a few seconds he splattered at the base of the tower amid the smoke of his grenades and the casings of his bullets.

The proud generals looked at the one Navy admiral in the group, daring him to do better.

The admiral called over one of his sailors and said. “The order is to go off that tower with no repelling rig and no parachute.”

The sailor looked at the admiral and the generals.

He looked at the tower and the brave men splattered at its base.

He looked back at the admiral and said “No Sir.”

The generals were taken aback, but the admiral smiled. He raised one finger and said, “Now that was brave.”

Have a good one dear reader. See you next week.

Whine or Do?

Occasionally when you are working on a project you get to learn something. If you’re lucky you might even learn something about yourself…

I initially wrote this on Tuesday after finishing a little work on Going Home the Hard Way, my next novel (and my most recent NANOWRIMO project). I’d just finished going through chapter 1 for the fourth (fifth?) time. While I was feeling pretty good about the chapter I was a bit worried about my hero being a bit of a whiny brat (he is fourteen…)

I realized that, for the character, occasional bouts of whininess are to be expected (again, he is fourteen and from a broken home…). John growing out of that whininess is part of the story I’m trying to tell. The important part of things is to not let myself (as a theoretical adult) be a whiny brat.

It is easy to complain about the ‘breaks’ and chance you didn’t get. It is easy to say “if only I had what he/she has, then I could succeed!”

One of the miracles of our world dear reader is that we have the ability to change. We can become more than we have been.

Another miracle of our world is that we can achieve our worthy desires. Maybe not in quite the way we initially see them, but we can achieve them. We will be given what we need to do so, if we will do the work and be ready to receive what we need when it is given.

It takes thought and effort, but we can really achieve our worthy desires.

Stay tuned dear reader, and see you next post.

Geometry and Reality

I’d like to start with a thought I had while doing some book research:

In geometry terms a line is a theoretical, it has no ends. A line segment is the thing with two end points. For our purposes we can have as many line segments as we need, in any direction we need, as long as the overall line from us to our goal is followed.  When we stray from that (mental) line we are in trouble.

When we actually try something we want to do the result can be pretty ugly. We will make mistakes. We will have missteps…

But, if we learn from our mistakes and missteps we can progress toward the thing we really desire, even though the line segments in reality don’t line up as perfectly straight and true as the mental/theoretical line we wanted.

How this has applied in my life:

As of this Saturday (20 May 2017) the novel Johnson Farm is finally on sale. It’s been a long time in coming. It would have been quicker to arrive if I could have held closer to that mental/theoretical line between where I was and me being an author. It would have been a much longer process if I had continued to listen to those who told me I couldn’t do it, or pushed me in other directions.

I will admit that my first attempt at writing a novel wasn’t very good. It was a first attempt; I was going through a lot at the time; and I was about twelve… Just because I didn’t knock it out of the park on the first one doesn’t mean I should have given up!

That first attempt still exists as a file on my computer. Elements of that story also exist here and there in other stories I’ve written (and some I’m writing right now…). I keep that story around because it helps me see where I was when I started down the path to being an author and novelist. It helps me measure my progress.

What it actually means:

Sometimes the real life line isn’t as straight as the mental/theoretical one. But those shifts aren’t necessarily mistakes, unless you give up. That’s an important distinction. The time I said “that person is right, I can’t succeed as an author, I should be a computer programmer” was a mistake. It was me shifting from the true line. The times I set a story down to get a little distance and perspective before I picked it up again were not.

Ultimately it is that mental line from where you are to where you’re going that matters. If you have to side step to get around (or over, or under) an obstacle that’s OK. If you’re beating your head against a cement wall, you’re not getting anywhere. If you shift slightly to walk through a doorway you’re making progress.

The sidesteps and diversions that come from giving up on a goal are the ones that can kill you. The ones that you can explain in terms of how they get you closer to your goal (including making it possible to get to your goal…) are the ones that save you.

The biggest threat to your success is the same thing as your biggest asset in becoming successful. It’s  you, dear reader, ultimately it all comes down to you, and your active choice to do the things that will get you where you want to go;  even when it doesn’t look to others like that’s what’s happening.

That’s it for this one dear reader, see you next post.

Taking life as it comes…

In my recent adventures I’ve found myself thinking about where I’ve been and where I’m going.

It’s been several years since my “little vacation” to the hospital and my diabetes diagnosis. It that time I’ve grown and become more the person I want to be.

Becoming who you want to be isn’t an easy process. But, it is worth doing. Becoming is a process that involves effort and pain.

It isn’t necessarily a linear process. In fact it usually isn’t a linear process. There are a lot of things that go into a human life dear reader. We don’t’ all deal with them in the same order. We rarely have complete choice in what we have to deal with. And, we never get all the way through life without adversity.

We’re actually lucky in that way. Adversity helps us to grow and change. If we had no unmet desires and no challenges to face we would never become more than we are; we would never reach our potential. It would be stupid and we wouldn’t do it.

Often it’s not the fact that we face a challenge that makes things better or worse: it’s how we react that mattes. It’s how we choose to act that matters.

We can learn, grow, and overcome, or we can let things eat at us; let them wear us down. We can choose to be positive (at least as positive as we can in the moment)), or we can choose to be negative, whiny, and mean. One of those choices is surprisingly effective at making things better, and the other isn’t…

Sometimes it’s not the challenge, but how we deal with other people while we deal with the challenge that matters. (I know…I know… I’m not perfect at this myself. But, I’m trying!)

I can’t make a blanket statement about how to act in all situations, or in dealing with all people (there are several billion people out there which adds up to several trillion interactions or situations (at least!)). But, more often than not calm and measured out performs “losing it”.

You can influence other people just through what you say and do. You can change what you do and how you do it. That means you can become better and become a better influence on society, and so can everyone else…

That’s it for this one dear reader. At this point the book is in press, and the graduation’s done. The diabetes is in check, and the in-laws have gone home. So, more sure than I’ve been for a while… See you next post!

That “extra” paycheck…

Between my latest non-fiction project and tax season I’ve been thinking a lot lately about money…

One of the things I’ve been seeing is people’s perception of extra money and how it can get you into trouble. We all know that the tax man wants his cut, and a higher tax bracket or getting caught cheating on your taxes gets you in trouble, but what about cases that don’t raise your tax rate? What about times where the tax man has already taken his cut…?

Yes, I’m saying the “three paycheck month” can bite you!

Actually it happens all the time… Someone thinks “I get $2000 per pay check and I have an extra pay check this month. So I have $2000 to spend on a toy.” Then it happens; the bank comes back with an overdraft for a few hundred dollars. How did it happen?

Well, it’s because that ‘extra’ pay check isn’t as ‘extra’ the person thought. Sure it doesn’t have any monthly expenses coming out of it, but not all our expenses are monthly. For a lot of us food, fuel, and similar items are weekly expenses. That means we’re paying for them every week, not just four weeks per month. And they come out of those ‘extra’ checks too…

There might actually be some unallocated money in that third paycheck, but the whole check isn’t necessarily ‘extra’. The good news is if we plan how to sue that extra check we can do some real good and or have some real fun.

It’s just like everything else dear reader. You plan and choose and that’s how you get through.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next post.

Things come…

This week I’ve been reading Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich as part of research for a project I’m starting. One of the things that I keep seeing really resonates with me right now, things come to you when you are ready.

Between me getting Johnson Farm ready to go (It’s officially on the market in May and nothing is going to stop it this time!) and my wife finishing her dissertation we’ve cleared a couple of major projects. It is a time to look back at what we have done and what is coming up next.

We have achieved things. We have had really positive things happen that seem like they are just being handed to us. But, in reality, the things that we are “just getting handed” today result from a series of steps we have taken.

This year I am able to sign my emails with the title Editor in Chief. This week my wife was invited to speak at a conference. Neither of these things would have happened if we hadn’t put in the work and started ourselves on the path a long time ago.

The amazing thing about the world we live in is that we can achieve more than we think we can. We can definitely achieve more than our critics tell us we can.

We are dear reader. We exist and exist for a purpose. We have potential dear reader. We can achieve more than we think. But if we are going to do that we need to put in the effort.

We are agents unto ourselves able to choose and act. We are members of a family, a community, a world. We need not be alone. We are stronger with others. But, we have to do our part in achieving what we want.

If you have a desire, even if it’s still just a dream, strive for it; prepare yourself for it; make yourself worthy of it; and if it is a right thing, a true thing in the eye of God and the Universe, it will happen.

And if not? Well… It is better to stand and act, to make the effort and learn and become, than it is to fail because you never tried.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next week.

Strange bedfellows?

There are a lot of people out there who (whether they admit it or not…) operate under the principle that because I am in group A and you are in group B we can’t associate with each other. Not only is this false but it is dangerously false!

We’re not all the same. It’s a given, just accept it. But, the fact that we’re not all the same doesn’t mean that we can’t share values and beliefs.

Here are a couple of examples:

First example

Last Sunday the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints announced that they were going to build a temple here in the town I live in. Naturally the LDS community here was thrilled. And, sadly, some of their neighbors were angry…

Several people have made comments that the building will be an eyesore. Others claimed that the Mormons were going to invade and take over…

But then there was the reaction from some prominent individuals in the Muslim community…

The Muslims welcomed the announcement of the LDS temple!

Now the LDS church is not the same thing as Islam, but these influential Muslim leaders were able to recognize the announcement as proof of a continuing, and growing, faith in God in the community. Both groups have some intolerant and outspoken members (to say the least), but both groups also value faith in God and family values.

The prominent Muslims in our community were able to recognize the event as one that built on common values and goals. (And for the ‘take over’ people: I believe the LDS community is already over 50% of the community, so it ain’t exactly an ‘invasion’… For the eyesore crowd: I’ve heard it before… And every time it’s been said (in my presence at least) the new temple sent property values UP

Second example

Down in Florida there was a guy who shot up a nightclub…

The clientele of the nightclub happened to be largely homosexual. The shooter claimed he did it because they offended his religious beliefs…

Most of us who’ve seen the news remember something about the event…

Do you remember what those ‘rednecks’ down at a local gun shop said?

The owner of the shop, and the community around it welcomed the local homosexual community in…

Now, this event was painted by some as a marketing stunt by a notoriously conservative and intolerant community, but…

Knowing the community around my own local gun shop, knowing enthusiasts of a variety of colors, creeds and political loyalties, I can also see the level where it was an honest offer.

At least at the gun shop I go to community would rather see people have the freedom to choose and live their lives than see the reign of intolerant idiots who would kill you for disagreeing with them. They are willing to stand with and defend those who they might not wholly agree with because they do believe in the freedom to choose, they do believe in people and the rights that they are given under the U.S. constitution including the right to believe as they wish and seek happiness as they understand it. (Again: at least where I go…) They do not and will not support those who would seek to oppress others by force of arms.

The point of it all…

The point is, just because I happen to be part of group A and you are part of group B, that doesn’t mean that we can’t work together when our goals values are the same. True, I might not agree with the Muslim down the street about the precise book of scripture, but in terms of valuing family and having faith in God, we kind of agree. That is something to build on, not something to run from.

True, I may be heterosexual and the neighbor may be homosexual, but that doesn’t preclude us from having the same concerns about a wave of break-ins in the neighborhood, or not wanting a meth lab across the street, or wanting good paying jobs in our community, or…

When we build on common bonds and values we grow. We also hold out the possibility that those we disagree with may eventually come to agree with us on other things (or we may come to agree with them as we learn…). If we let differences that don’t matter overshadow the things that do, we’re really cutting ourselves off from the good that we could share.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Until next time…

Find some points of agreement!

The law of sacrifice

Today we are talking about one of the great concepts of the universe! In finance and economics we would call it an ‘opportunity cost’. The world of engineering it is known as a ‘trade off’. In the world of anime our subject has been referred to as the ‘law of equivalent exchange’. Those of a more religious bend would know it as the law of sacrifice.

No matter who, or what, you are if you want something you have to give something up to get it. If you want to by lunch at a restaurant the restaurant’s owner and managers expect you to pay for it. If you want a new pair of shoes the shoe people probably want money too. Fortunately you have ways to obtain money (but, you pay a cost to get the money too…).

Not every cost is a monetary cost. If you want to sleep in an extra half hour tomorrow it’s unlikely anyone is going to charge you money to do that. However, you give up whatever else you could do with that half hour, including making money, reading a book, or something a bit more intimate.

If you want a good grade in a hard class you ‘pay’ for it by studying (or sometimes by cheating, which has its own costs…).

If you want to write a book? Well, that costs you time, effort, money and a variety of other costs…

The point is, no matter what you choose to obtain, when you choose to obtain something you’re also choosing to give something up.

The secret to the law of sacrifice is: if you choose to be aware, then you have influence over the universe. Whether you see the controlling influence in the universe as God, the laws of physics, or a giant plate of spaghetti, you have the ability to make choices. At least to an extent you can choose the results you want to strive for and what you are willing to sacrifice for them.

No, you don’t always get what you want. No, you can’t choose the consequences of your actions (after you’ve acted at least), but you can choose what you will give up and what you will put your effort into obtaining. You dear reader can influence the world around you. You dear reader can influence the universe itself.

Our power is not unlimited. There are principles and laws we must follow (and consequences for trying to break them). But we also have agency. We can choose what we will do and what we will give up. And that dear reader is part of what makes us free.

That’s it for today dear reader. Until next time…

The choice is yours!

The secret art of stepping away

Earlier this week I found myself talking to a friend who is getting ready to go back to college. I gave her the usual advice that my wife and I give to all our college bound friends, make sure you take a fun class every semester.

Contrary to what some might think, we don’t give this advice just to make sure the person has fun. The reality is it helps with their other classes.

Why stepping away helps

Taking a fun class, or taking a day off from your big project to do something else, helps you because it changes your focus and lets your conscious mind rest from working on the class/project. We see the same effect with studying. You see better outcomes if you shift subjects every so often and come back later. (How long is a ‘so often’? That depends on the individual and your mileage may vary. For me it’s about an hour to two hours (for studying))

The key is to get enough in, and enough time in, to make a worthwhile step forward without spending so much time that you become counterproductive. In fact we can see the same principle in play in physics and chemistry when painting or putting a patina on metal. It is often a good idea to put on multiple thin layers rather than trying one thick layer that goes on all at once.

The multiple layers allow for better drying and damage resistance while the thick layer gets gloppy, takes longer to dry, and is more prone to chipping. Biologically multiple contacts and repetitions help build neural pathways and muscle fiber in ways that are very different from the patterns developed by the one shot approach.

Growth applications

We see the same principle in a lot of self-help and personal growth applications. This is why goals and affirmations are to be put up in visible places, so you can see them frequently and they get ingrained. It is much more effective to do it this way than the “think really hard about it once then go out for pizza” technique.

I know that this isn’t easy dear reader, but I also know it works. That’s why even though I’m up to my eyeballs in book stuff it’s a good idea to get away once in a while and do something different (even… Gasp… something that has nothing to do with writing a book!).

That’s it for today dear reader. Keep working on those projects, but remember to take some breaks along the way.

See you next week.

What a year

Even without going into politics (and we are not going into politics here!) 2016 has been an interesting year. While there has been bad (police shootings (both ways), acts of terror, and other man caused stupidity, dishonesty and cowardice) there has also been good. People have done courageous things, stood for right and helped other people. In the coming year let’s bring the good with us (and if we have to remember the bad remember it as a warning, don’t let wrong and revenge become a vocation).

In my own little corner of the universe 2016 has seen the launch of my first real book as a professional writer, and the transformation of my first NANOWRIMO win into what will hopefully be my first book release of 2017. This year has also seen the death of my mother, the rise of my wife’s doctoral dissertation, and yet another NANOWRIMO win. Again I seek to take the good with me, and if I have to remember the bad I choose to remember it as past and not something to live my life around.

We soon (within two weeks) will have a new year. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen and I know it will have its scary moments. Scary moments are part of life, but the key is to embrace the opportunities and move forward, to learn and do better than we have done before.

I am hoping to see many new and good things in the year to come, some of which will be discussed here. Some new things will actually happen here as I and my story continue to grow.

December holds the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. The solstice is literally the year’s darkest day, and that’s ok. After the solstice things begin to get lighter again, the temperatures start to get warmer, and things start to grow again. So it should be with our lives.

And so dear reader I say to you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

There are those who may choose to be offended by these wishes for good, to them I say just insert your own chosen holiday and accept that I’m including that one too (even Kwanza…). The point is that I am wishing you joy and happiness and it’s your choice to take it (or not…).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year dear reader, and I hope to see you again in 2017.