Simplify – or: “Keep It Simple, Stupid!”

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Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.

– Henry David Thoreau –

Although not always applicable to every category in life, it is generally true that ‘the devil is in the details’, or as my son keeps telling me: “Mom. Stop. Overthinking. It.” Every time he says it, he picks up a decoration I keep on my desk – just a wooden based brass word sculpture that is simply one word – and shakes it at me:

“Simplify”

As a matter of fact, at the very last job I had before I retired, the philosophy was, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. Definitely an in-yer-face statement, but applicable when you happen to be in customer service. And so it goes for many aspects of life.

The old complaint about there not being enough time in a day to accomplish what one wants to do is usually attributable to the fact that that, instead of seeing the simplicity of a task, too much attention is given to unnecessary detail. Whether or not you dry the dishes immediately they are placed in the  dish drainer has absolutely no effect on them winding up in the cupboard…only when they get there.

If you are a writer, you don’t need to wait until your computer updates are completed so that you can get into your word processing program. If you have an idea right now, take notes with pen and paper, use your voice recorder on your phone or jot it down with your eye pencil on the bathroom sink! As long as your words eventually make it into your final manuscript or draft, don’t overthink how…or when…they get there.

To quote that famous footwear logo: “Just DO it!”

Did you oversleep? Throw your clothes on (drape your tie around your neck, fellas), toss your deodorant, toothbrush/paste, comb/brush (and make-up, ladies) into a bag, slip on your flip-flops and grab your shoes and socks/stockings…better yet, keep a “ready bag” packed and on hand…jump in the car and hit the road. Better to show up a few minutes early or on time, than stress about the small stuff you can take care of after you clock in, and make yourself late by doing so.

By spreading a “Keep It Simple, Stupid” philosophy throughout your life, there will be less stress, steadier blood pressure and, if you’re not careful, you may even find that there really are enough hours in the day to “git ‘er done”!

Simplify, y’all. Simplify.

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What if We All Took Our Own Advice?

I’m sure you’ve done it…given advice to someone who was in dire need of your particular brand of expertise. We all have.

But

…did it ever dawn on you that maybe, just maybe, you should have taken your own good advice at some point in your life? Hmm? I mean, “Been there, done that” doesn’t really qualify you as someone who knows what they’re doing. Not really. It just means you’ve done the same dumb thing that your friend has done…and likely come away with the same tattered ego.

There are two ways of looking at that question, really. I mean, what if you had taken your own advice? What if you had looked at your situation and thought about what you’d tell someone else in the same spot…then decided not to follow through with your intended course of action? At least then you might call yourself a quasi-expert simply because of your own trial and error.

What I’m suggesting is this:

Nearly everyone has their own philosophy. Nearly everyone is capable of giving sound advice. And if everyone took their own advice, there would be very few people who would need advice in the first place!

Just sayin’…

Faith: A Matter of Choice

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It has been said that if you have nothing in your life worth dying for, then you really have nothing to live for. Some may say they disagree, but only those who choose not to love life at all are being truthful. Believing that life is worth living is to have faith.

Belief and faith go hand in hand and both require a choice. And to embrace either fully takes no small amount of effort, especially when life throws storms your way.

It is easy to just give up…just lay down with a lumpy, fatalistic pillow under your head and die to the opportunities of life.

When our children get frustrated and want to quit, whether they’re trying to learn how to ride a bike, or hit a baseball, or learn to swim, we tell them, “Think of all you may miss if you give up!”

Adults are no different, except that we can find more excuses to deny faith, simply because we’ve had more experience with making excuses.

To have faith is a choice. Choose to dig deep and find that faith in something so worth living for that you would be willing to die for it – like freedom…or your children and loved ones…or just the right to choose at all.

“Lord of the Rings”: Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins & Me

Screenshot_2015-08-02-15-09-21I tend, every night when I go to bed, to pick one movie that I know so well that there’s nearly no danger of my staying awake to watch the whole thing. I say that “I will watch it until it watches me”. These past few months, that movie has been Lord of the Rings, Pt 1.

Once the prologue is finished…the bit about the history of The Ring…then come the first few scenes:

An Hobbit, Frodo Baggins, is interrupted in his reverie, there beneath a huge old tree, as he hears the wheels of wizard Gandalf’s wagon approaching the Shire. Gandalf is on his way to Bilbo Baggins’ house, to celebrate Bilbo’s birthday.

Frodo leaps up with a gleeful, pixie-ish smile and runs to meet him; he springs into the wagon, greeting the old man with a hearty hug and rides with him for a ways, engaging in lighthearted conversation, before hopping off, waving goodbye and, “I’m glad you’re back, Gandalf.”

Now, as Frodo and Gandalf are headed toward Bilbo’s house, the scenery gives the perfect definition to the term, “bucolic”…with meadows and rolling hills (into which the Hobbits build their cozy homes)…in every way an image of peaceful coexistence with nature.

Quite simply, it makes me homesick…not only for the country-fied existence I led when I first experienced the ”country life”, during my younger years (LH), but also for the simple, uncluttered, predictable and…well…”Shire-like”…life that I crave, here in the final years of my life.

As Gandalf continues on his way, we see the Shire folk, engaged in all manner of daily chores and the Shireling young, playing and frolicking about the fields, meadows and farms, shouting even more greetings to the old man. Smiling, he travels onward and soon arrives at Bilbo Baggins house, which is named, appropriately enough, “Bag End”.

There in his kitchen, whilest preparing tea for himself and Gandalf,  when Bilbo expresses his desires (and here, the script crosses all the t’s, dots all the i’s and places all of the correct beginning and ending punctuation, “precisely when (it’s) meant to be…”), the feeling that squeezes my own heart, ever so tightly, more and more each successive year, never fails to rise up in me.

He heaves a great sigh (I do the same), as if the weight of the world is on his shoulders.

“… I want to see mountains again…mountains… and then find somewhere quiet where I can finish my book…”

(Bilbo stands gazing out of the kitchen window...I’m right beside him, though he doesn’t know it).

“I am old, Gandalf…” Bilbo looks at Gandalf sadly. “…I’m beginning to feel it in my heart.”

“I feel thin…sort of…stretched…like butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday…a very long holiday…and I don’t expect I shall return…in fact…

I mean not to.”

Then, at the end of his ‘eleventy-first’ birthday celebration, he bids Gandalf goodbye, and heads down the road, into the darkness, singing a tune that speaks of freedom and, perhaps, new adventure.

All the while these scenes are playing, I disappear; I am lost in the deep, intense want to pack my knapsack, find a way to physically jump into the story, and tagalong with Bilbo, on his way to “live(d) happily ever after, to the end of his days.”

Then I fall asleep.

But this ache is always awake.

* * * * * * * * * *

(Excerpts from the screenplay, “Lord of the Rings”, part one. Writers : Frances Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson)

Is It Even LEGAL for a Goose to Drink Wine???

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Three, six, nine

The goose drank wine

The monkey chewed tobacco on the streetcar line

The line broke

The monkey got choked

And they all went to heaven in a little row boat

*****

Awhile back, I went to bed, turned on the television, set the sleep-timer, as always, and settled in to “watch the tv, until the tv watches me”, as I like to say.

Just as I was dozing off, a commercial came on about some random product or another…but the attention grabber was that old jump rope/clap ditty about a goose and a monkey. I remember chuckling to myself about that long ago, half forgotten nursery rhyme, as twilight sleep quickly overtook me.

I awoke the next morning, with that children’s ditty running through my head…but for the life of me, I couldn’t quite make out the words.

I wasn’t entirely sure at the time why it seemed so important to me that I should get the words right and it took me a month of trying to catch that commercial before I succeeded in capturing the whole thing.

The result was one of those, “AH HA!” moments that left me feeling as if I had just won an Olympic Gold Medal!

Go figure. It’s a children’s rhyming game, for Pete’s sake.

Anyway, later that day, there I was, practicing the words and that little hand-clap thing the little girls used to do back in the day, when I started to actually pay attention to what I was saying, and it hit me:

No wonder we never see little kids playing the old hand-clap and jump rope games anymore….the original words have been politically corrected to death and are no longer worth reciting!

I understand…I really do…that parents want to protect their children from the harshness of life. But really, sterilizing moral tales such as Aesop’s Fables, or rhymes like Ring Around A Rosie (for crying out loud…kids won’t know the history behind THAT one until they’re told!) isn’t so much protecting them from the tough realities of life, as it is denying them a chance to be well prepared for the small and large disappointments that come with human territory!

Better just to teach them the difference between fiction and non-fiction, fantasy and reality, mindless entertainment and learning stories instead. At least 3,000 years have come and gone with children all over the world  learning from parables, with none of the stories being “prettied up”. When that happens, the stories…and the lessons they teach…lose their impact.

Here’s an analytical study and re-write for the adventures of Goose and Monkey, all for the sake of making the tale politically correct (according to some):

1) “Three, six, nine…”  Obviously, these are referencing the so-call, “Perfect Numbers” in the Bible, best reserved for those politically INcorrect stories in the “Theological Myths” genre. Change them or drop them entirely.

2) “…the goose drank wine…”  a: Fairytale-ish; misleading, an outright lie; b: What if a child thinks, ‘if it’s safe for a goose to drink alcohol, it must be safe for a kid.’; c) Think ASPCA, Humane Society and PETA. Need I elucidate? Change or drop it altogether.

3) “…the monkey chewed tobacco…” ‘if a monkey can use tobacco products, etc. etc….’ Change it or drop it altogether.

4) “…on a streetcar line…” Well, streetcars are dangerous…all that electricity…so the author MUST be trying to incite our young to suicide. Also, think ASPCA, PETA, etc. Change it or drop it altogether.

5) “…the line broke…” Acceptable.

6) “…the monkey got choked…” Too violent, too much death. Oh, and think: ASPCA, PETA, etc. Change it or drop it altogether.

7) “…and they all went to heaven…” ABSOLUTELY NOT! Falls under “Theological Myth” genre. Religious opinions and instruction (of the Judeo-Christian variety) are totally unsuitable for today’s child. CHANGE IT OR DROP IT ALTOGETHER.

8) “…in a little row boat…” Hmmm. Something a tad odd about that, but still…tentatively acceptable.

The rewrites for the ages-old children’s ditty now read:

#1:

One through ten, the goose drank water that is only tinged red because of a chemical reaction with a clay based river bottom, a monkey, having not yet been been rescued after getting loose from his veterinarian, was sitting inside a strretcar on display in a museum, chewing on an organically grown, non-GMO, banana. The streetcar’s rope (the one that keeps visitors at a distance) broke and the startled monkey nearly fainted. Both Goose and Monkey were rescued by PETA and were transported back to their native homes by boat…ummm…luxury liner.”

#2:

“1,2,4,5,7,8,10…In a little rowboat.”

Havin’ some fun now, huh?

Children learn best by stories. Sometimes, though, a ditty…is just…a ditty. BUT, if you must analyze….(stay tuned for “Is It Even LEGAL for a Goose to Drink Wine, Part Deux”!)


“Is the spring coming?”

“Is the spring coming?” he asked. “What is it like?”

“It is like the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine.”
(Excerpt from “The Secret Garden”, by Frances Hodgson Burnette)

Each year, when spring begins to breathe its soft, warm fragrance over the earth, I am inspired to find ways to apply the epithets quoted about this season to my life.

There is just something about Spring that conjures visions of not only new growth in the form of budding plants and the birth of frolicking calves, lambs and kittens, but also of embarking on new projects and the giddy anticipation of new experiences and travels through life.

Spring is about looking for new green shoots pushing through the dormancy of winter, stretching forth to fulfull their destiny in the cycle of life.

If we look at spring as an opportunity to test the limits of our own imaginations, we may land far beyond the boundaries we have previously set for ourselves.

Open not only your eyes but your senses: is the spring coming to your life? What is it like?

I Am Third

Mankind has always had the choice to be either cryptically self-centered or selflessly magnanimous. We can either lay out a welcome mat for the world or we can build impenetrable walls around ourselves and live in our own little worlds.  In this life, our perception of relationship to others is simple. Our positional choices are:   1) God (providing one is not an atheist)   2) Others and   3) Self. We all have the right to decide which position we will occupy. As for me, I am third.

In this age of instant gratification many people have lost sight of the fact that the world does not, in reality, revolve around them. The terms “That’s not in my job description”, “It’s not my business” and even “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” seem to now be the rallying cry for the majority of humanity. Like the flock of seagulls in “Finding Nemo”, it’s all “MINE! MINE! MINE! MINE!” with no regard for their fellows.

Shall we blame this on the trashing of accountability and charity, two characteristics that have historic ties to teachings in spirituality and religion? Should the blame be placed on the skewed idea of political correctness, regarding “out of vogue” morality and compassion, which the so-called “Me Generations” have embraced? Or is this tendency away from selflessness toward selfishness “just one of those things”, which really only means that the lessons of history have been forgotten.

Cultures all over the world share similar philosophies, developed through trial and error, to insure the success of their societies. Ideas for accountability like, “Don’t rob Peter to pay Paul”, or for personal morality, such as “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” (not judging here…I heard it in my younger days!) and most well known of all, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…” are all social norms which have been shared across the globe…with success…along with taking personal responsibility for orphans and respect and care for the elders of their communities.

“You reap what you sow” is not just words. It has been a highly tested, successful and accepted philosophy for millennia.   Face it, those old sayings have survived for a reason.

For the past several decades the youth of this country have been taught by society, that they have the right to whatever they want. Period. Regardless of their social or interpersonal skills…or lack thereof. They don’t seem to be able to grasp the difference between the concepts of “rights” and “privileges”. They have not been taught that society, by definition, is an interaction between people, not separate individuals doing what they want, when they want, without regard for each other.

Too many young people are under the impression that respect is a right. Only in one sense is this true and, even then, only metaphorically. We all have the right to demand that people “respect”…or acknowledge…our God given, Constitutional human rights. True respect, on the other hand, is a privilege to be earned…just like trust. And earning respect is one of those things that precludes self-centeredness.

Anyone can get rich, but if personal wealth comes by squashing people or destroying their lives to reach your goals, then you have neither earned nor deserve respect. You can donate to charities all over the world and, yes, they will happily take your money…but if those donations are available only because you cut your workers’ wages drastically to raise your profit margin and are donating strictly as a tax exemption, no one is going to respect you. You have given loudly…in other words, you have given only to be seen. You deserve be treated with the same disdain that you have treated others.

But, if you give selflessly of yourself to others your reward will be that you have earned their respect, and your compassion to those in need will insure that, in your own times of need, there will always be someplace where you will never be turned away.

As my philosophies of life are based in Judeo-Christian thought, I believe that God directs my path and provides for my needs in many ways. Through His guidance, I have always been led to help, in the best way I can, others whose needs far outweigh my own little inconveniences.  It is only at the end of the day, after I am satisfied that I have done all I can for my neighbor, my children or the stranger lying on the side of the road, that I look to my own comfort…because I am third.

I am third because I know the discomfort of being one of the “Others”, as second.  I’ve never been able to pay back those who have upheld me during the harshest periods of my life;  “You can repay us by ‘being there’ for someone else or by helping someone else in need.” I was told. “Pay it forward” is a very large part in the “I Am Third”  part of my philosophy of life…helping others as I, myself, have been helped.

God is First. Others are Second. I Am Third.