Category Archives: Family

Five Minutes/55 Years

Recently, I made a megamix of Rocky theme songs. Though I am not great at it, I made one remix that is impossible to remain immobile while it’s playing. The “Five Minute” rule works great when I’m not feeling it. Because it’s certainly true that motivation follows action rather than the converse. People wait for the urge, motivation, or willpower. It’s the opposite. As soon as the thought hits your noggin, you get up and do whatever it is you were about to put off. Or worse, say aloud, “I need to do so-and-so.” One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was: “DON’T tell me what you’re going to do. Live it. Show me.”

Most of the time, if you practice doing, telling yourself you’ll spend just five minutes on a task cures your procrastination enough to keep going once you start. That’s true with so many things in life.

The Five Minute rule aligns seamlessly with my Law of Increments. If you do a little consistently throughout the day and days, before long, you will amass much effort – and probably consequences.

I know Rocky is old school. One of the reasons it did so well is because Sylvester Stallone (whose real name is Michael Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone) was a nobody with a story about overcoming odds. He was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay.

Late in my 9th-grade year, I got pissed off at myself one early spring afternoon and decided to go running. I figured if the violence in the house hadn’t killed me, I could risk a heart attack. We lived on the downside of a hill in Tontitown near 4K farms. To say that I regretted starting that day is an understatement. I ran a mile. My shorts were ragged, and my shoes weren’t running shoes. Poor aptly describes my predicament. But I put it all aside and just ran. I did it every day, no matter the weather and how sore I was. After a while, I was shocked to discover that the exhilaration of barely being able to breathe was an absolute high. At the end of it, I knew I’d have a hill to run down. Over time, I found myself sprinting a half-mile before the incline. I added more and more distance until one day, it occurred to me that even distance wasn’t an issue. Years later, I wondered what it was that first day propelled me to stop yammering in my head about what I needed to do – and just do it.

My brother forced me to do pullups and lift weights in the horrid dirt floor cellar on the bottom level of the trailer we rented. He usually punctuated the necessity of compliance by punching me in the upper arm with enough force to numb it. Months later, I turned the tables on him when he told me I had to do at least a dozen pull-ups. I said, “After you, my lady, after which I will.” He struggled and finished. I jumped up on the bar and did thirty. “How many CAN you do?” The look on his face was hard to read. “I don’t know. I don’t count. Pullups aren’t a normal thing I do in the real world.” My brother Mike was ridiculously stronger than me. I didn’t like weights. But if I wasn’t practicing my French Horn or reading amongst the trees, it was safe to hide somewhere, anywhere, rather than inside, where the violence would erupt. I’d do anything to have my brother Mike around so I could duck, weave, and throw punches at HIM.

Later, I realized that when I didn’t have motivation, I would listen to a couple of the songs from Rocky and Rocky 3 in my head. “Eye of The Tiger” played ad nauseam everywhere back then. You couldn’t go to church without expecting to hear it being played in lieu of old hymns. That song always gave me the energy to beat my immobility inertia.

All these decades later, some of the music still motivates me. I loathe many of the songs on the soundtracks. Anything by that crack-voiced Frank Stallone, for example. The new remixes incorporate more of the wall of brass sound that the main theme personifies. It’s just raw power demanding that I stay focused.

Through the years, I discovered that almost all obstacles were a figment of my imagination. Could I do 1,000 pushups a day? No, but I could do 1,500. That’s a bit excessive, I know. I stopped doing quite so many a few days before my emergency surgery about sixteen months ago. Could I run a mile in under six minutes at age 55? Yes. Can I run as fast as my childhood best friend Mike? Hell, no. I still have mud in my nostrils from years ago when I tried to keep pace with him. (I decided he might be Superman.) Could I walk twenty a day if I want to? Yes.

I’ve failed at so many things. So please don’t read all this as a litany of humblebrags. I’m self-aware enough to understand that I wasted a lot of my time and energy. I am proud to be a Spanish bilingual and to be a liberal as an adult. Not just politically but across the spectrum relating to people.

The gist of it is that if we are focused enough to ask ourselves what our goals are, we probably can get there. If we want to. Regardless of most of the obstacles. Everyone has their obstacles. And yes, I do recognize my own privilege by writing all this. So many people have no opportunities or advantages. Mine were massive on both sides of the scale. I’m not so stupid as not to realize that despite the harsh hand I started out with, things are good.

I wish my life had a wall of horns blasting at key moments. It would drown out the complaining and haters, for one thing. It would help to get out of bed, too, not that I have that problem. I’m lucky enough to wake up rattling the rafters most days.

From “Eye Of The Tiger” to “Pancreas Of The Platypus” might be an ideal title for a book to describe my outlook on life.

PS That dust all over my vest is from rolling around on the floor with my cat. I can beat him wrestling any day.

Love, X

A Eulogy…Intensely Personal

(I had to add a link instead of uploading the video. My apologies!)

This one is a heartbreaker.

Difficult to make, harder to listen to again.

It’s about Erika’s brother, but it turned out to be about several people.

I remastered the music because it expresses everything that’s said in the words.

Love, X

As If

As If

Note: this isn’t about me. I didn’t experience a loss, so save up your warmth and regards for the next person in your life who needs it when the wheel spins in their direction. 2023 is going to be a year like the rest: no matter what we think approaches, life always winks impersonally at us. We have to smile back.

Yesterday, as the new year swung into gear on a lovely, warm, and beautiful January morning, I left work. It wasn’t quite spontaneous, yet I accompanied Erika to a funeral for a co-worker’s father. Erika experienced a particularly harsh aftermath of her brother’s death last year. Such events often leave us raw, scarred, and vulnerable to the emotions welling up without provocation. It’s hard for some of us to feel free just to let our wellspring of hurt come out, even when it might not have its genesis in the moment.

I attended another funeral last Monday. The disparity between the two services astonished me.

Several of us took advantage of the odd holiday schedule and drove to support a woman who was lucky enough to have two loving parents until recently. The funeral home was packed. The family had arranged to have a photo memorial of their patriarch playing. The snapshots clearly defined a man who loved music and family. His casket was a beautiful and simple wooden one without polish or needless adornment. If anyone needed a demonstration of what he must have been like as a man, this served well.

The service was two songs, an obituary reading, and a eulogy from a friend whose hands had seen decades of work and life. His voice trembled with age, but his words were simple and direct. To be able to contain your message in such a way is a gift. Anyone would be lucky to have a speaker for the dead with such experience and love. I’m paraphrasing his message, but it was this: “His passing was tough. But I knew him and the family. He loved and was loved. And he wants y’all to go on like it was before.” Even with his broken voice, he said more than most people say in ten thousand words.

Like the man the family was sending off, the funeral was simple. It was finished in about ten minutes from start to finish. Ten minutes compared to the forty-two million he’d walked the earth.

Because of the incredible weather, we lingered outside in the beautiful January morning air. All of us knew we were experiencing a miraculous display of nature. Rain and storms were rolling in later. I heard someone say that God must have opened a window for the family that morning.

Our co-worker didn’t need us there for support. It’s obvious her family is more than equipped to do what their patriarch asked: live as if.

Love, X
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Marcia

I have no claim to being the historian, the biographer, or the speaker for the dead for Marcia. I included the picture because it’s a rare one in which every person is smiling, all convened for a family wedding.

I arrived at the church early yesterday. I’d seen people outside and chatting as they always do before funerals. I took a few minutes to sit in the car, looking across the open area behind the church, my mind returning to the 90s and remembering another life. Not just the person’s life being heralded a few minutes later, but also mine swirled into a questionable collection of thoughts and memories.

Faces I hadn’t seen in well over a decade, some in fifteen years. I was once connected deeply to many of them. The children of the family? Some towered over me, their faces alien yet familiar. I hugged them all. I take my job as the Hug Ambassador seriously. I had to remind myself that I was in attendance for a funeral; the truth is that some of the warmth I used to experience with some of them came flooding back. Those who held a place in their hearts for me still told me plainly merely with their faces and enthusiasm upon seeing me. Seeing people after such a prolonged absence will gauge and plunder your feelings across a spectrum of emotions. All those lives, swirling inside and around a community we all share, were brought back together to send off someone who managed to make it to eighty-four years of age. She was the head of the family in what I call my Life 1.0. When I thought I was experienced and prepared for anything. Oof. Life reminded me that I was in store for a box containing both beautiful magic and dark shadows.

I remembered the first time I met Marcia. My deceased wife, Deanne, cautioned me, and she was right. Marcia mentioned the first time I met her that she wanted her large assembly of children to take care of her when she retired. We were sitting at Village Inn, having met her after our night shift. I had a lot better time than Deanne did. I acted like… myself: irreverent and fast-talking when her Mom veered into wild territory. Marcia had experienced a lot in her lifetime by the time I met her. It was written on her face and etched into her words even then. Deanne and her Mom argued often. It didn’t help things when it amused me when they did. Marcia didn’t quite understand at first how Deanne and I got together. So, I told her the truth: I was oblivious to Deanne’s attention, and Deanne took the reins and announced that I was coming over for dinner. Deanne was ten years younger than me and, at first sight, very outgoing.

The truth is that I had a lot more patience with her Mom than she did. I’ve found that to be the case universally. Most of us tend to grow too familiar with our family, and even the slightest oddness inspires us to imagine jumping into a well to escape them. It passes, of course. Especially when we realize that we probably irritate the blazes out of those around us equally. I know that Marcia hated that I took her baby girl away from her. But Marcia was also the one person we had with us when we married in Eureka Springs. As much as I unnerved Marcia sometimes, it’s hard to hold that in your heart when someone passes.

So, I hugged everyone in sight. I tried to avoid saying something stupid, including all the clichés accompanying death. I’ve continued to learn that everyone says something that rubs people the wrong way, no matter how innocent the intention is. I’ve said my share, and I’ve also listened as people said some incredible things to me while surrounded by death, grief, and discomfort. I watched most attendees respond reflexively to the litany of protocols of the Catholic church. Religious calisthenics, someone once called it. And I listened, my mind going back to the years my life overlapped with Marcia’s. As I sat in the pew next to one of Deanne’s brothers, I listened to the odd lilt of the priest’s voice and of the older male singer. The brother sitting next to me is much older now, of course. He was always irreverent. He and his sister Deanne used to annoy the piss out of each other. Older age suits him. Had Deanne still been alive and been sitting with us, I can only imagine the wild exchanges of inappropriate commentary we would have shared. Deanne and Joe would have traveled conversationally between insults and dark humor in a blink of an eye.

Marcia was cremated, a fact that surprised me. She was angry at me when Deanne died because she wanted her daughter buried. I pushed her irritation aside, maybe a little too confidently. Deanne and I had returned from a funeral in my hometown about a month earlier. We did what people do in those situations: we talked about what we wanted upon our demise two hundred years in the future.

I loved being invited yesterday. I made the picture for her obituary, one that was a composite of two pictures taken at one of her son’s weddings. That time frame was the quintessential “Marcia” most people hold in their minds. I realized I was a proxy for Marcia’s youngest daughter, the first to leave the family of six other siblings. That realization softened me more than I expected. It’s strange to think that if Deanne had not died so young, the arc of my life would have looped around to the same moment all these years later. All those experiences and years would have been replaced by the first arc of my life. Yet I still would have ended up in the same moment and place.

After the service, I went to Ancestry and closed out the chapter of her life by adding her date of death. Now, anyone looking for her will always find my family tree for her. It’s become a ritual for me. Closing out with that certain finality of a date and time. In a few days, I’ll add a hundred pictures to her tree to preserve them as long as the internet survives. 84 years is a long time to walk the earth. Yet it is also insufficient.

People, time, love, death, loss.

We march in time. If we are both lucky and unlucky, we will have enough life to see a parade of people precede us. It is both daunting and a gift.

It was a joy to see all the faces and to hug them. It also stabbed me a little because it was the life and family that I took for granted because the person connecting us was so young and left so early. Put aside were all the petty annoyances and dramas that characterize families. Just people, each trying to get through it and make sense of it in their own way. For me, it was literally another life ago.

Even when it’s truly someone’s time to go, it feels like a robbery. We’ll all convene and observe the rituals and expectations. But no one experiences a person the same way that another person does. Some experienced Marcia with both love and irritation, as a daughter, as a son, as an in-law, or as a friend. I don’t think I dishonored Marcia by saying she was brash, opinionated, and often argumentative. In her defense, most of her children inherited that predilection.

Maybe I overthink things, but I don’t think so. I think all of us have a long series of wild, contradictory, and disparate thoughts and ideas when someone dies. That’s probably an accurate way to go about it. Because people are complicated, and when we’re living a life that overlaps theirs, we don’t understand them.

I took time today to find more pictures of Marcia for her Ancestry entry. And I re-read Deanne’s calendar pages for her last year of life back in 2007. Even her short comments about arguing with her mom (and then mine) made me both laugh and remember her Mom truthfully, through both Deanne’s eyes and mine.

And to be remembered? That’s a feat all by itself.

Love, X

A Lemon Moment And A Revelation

I stopped at the inconvenience store on the way home. The Nepali clerk was stocking the lottery scratch-off rolls. She had one loose one left that she didn’t want to place loosely in the holder. “Do you want it?” she asked. “No,” I initially replied. But then I realized I should tempt fate. “How much is it?” I asked. “$10 dollars.” Hmmm. “Well, okay, let’s tempt fate. Maybe this will be one of those stories of coincidence.” The guy behind me said, “That would be amazing!” I took it over by the self-scanner and scratched the reader strip without bothering with the top half. I won my $10 back. Though it sounds stupid, for just a moment, I had this feeling that perhaps the universe was about to open one of its rare surprise boxes for me. The clerk and the other man felt it too. We all laughed in recognition of thinking that maybe we almost witnessed a surprise.

As I headed to my car, two addicts approached, a man and a woman. I recognized the man from a previous encounter. He’s difficult to understand. They were walking a large, sweet-natured dog, which I kneeled and petted. I figured out the man wanted a cigarette, so I went inside and got them cigarettes. The woman was beyond appreciative. They moved to the side of the building to smoke. She held her back in a certain way, which I recognized as serious back pain. She’d seen better days. Her clothes were dirty, and her hair was probably a mess three days ago. But she smiled back at me, even as she seemed to understand what her male companion was saying. Though I grew up with the worst mumbler on the planet, my dad, I scarcely understood every fifth word her companion uttered. The woman looked at me again and made eye contact.

I smiled back, hoping an infusion of a bit of my energy might reach her.

You never know.

About any moment.

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Earlier in the week, I received an unprovoked attack email that denigrated me with seething anger. Happy people don’t write words like those. I felt sorrow and sympathy for the author. I’m certain that the author doesn’t understand that the mere act of sending such an email telegraphs to anyone with an appreciation for human behavior and psychology that they are unhappy. Part of their motivation was to be a revisionist of the past; that’s normal, and everyone does it. People need to buttress their self-image. Revisionists are easy to spot because of their reluctance to admit wrongdoing or cast themselves in a questionable light. That’s not to say that some of what they wrote isn’t accurate! It is incomplete, however.

The other part was an attempt to silence me when I write about parts of my life that overlap. I go out of my way most of the time to avoid spilling people’s secrets or the things that they prefer to be kept hidden. Most people aren’t like me. They won’t share their warts, believing that people don’t otherwise know. This is one of the reasons I can’t be blackmailed. I’ll spill my secrets regardless of whether I need to. I’ll release nude pictures of myself after eating six Happy Meals. I don’t care. It’s hard to shame someone who willingly shares their life. I think back to dealing with some of my family, who spent years failing to dissuade me from finding out some of my family history.

As for convincing people that they have the wrong idea about me, that’s foolish. If people have only a partial story, it’s hard to blame them for listening to the person with the ax to grind. “Only the spoon knows what is stirring in the pot” is always an apt phrase to remember. As for the rest, slander is when you willfully and knowingly speak mistruths, and libel is when you write them. And if it is true? It’s neither.

It’s odd to see self-righteousness from someone who doesn’t share their full story. I don’t feel self-righteous precisely because I’m the first to say I’ve been a hypocrite. But I’m not ashamed to share the stupid things I’ve done. But I do know that I know a lot that would embarrass the hell out of people. It’s not my job to share it, nor do I want to. I write about this when I reference seeing behind so many people’s curtains.

I willingly open my curtains, even if makes you wonder if I’ve lost my damn mind.

I won’t open your curtains unless it overlaps with my story.

Go be happy.

It’s easy NOT to hear me or read my words. Change the channel, don’t look at my social media or blog, and just live a happy life.

Love, X