Category Archives: Entertainment

Hurricanes & Health Care, Russians & Racists: How do you deal with it all?

“Perhaps there could be no joy on this planet without an equal weight of pain to balance it out on some unknown scale.” –Stephenie Meyer, The Host

Hello friend,

I got a big jolt on Monday night right before I fell asleep. I was in bed doing a very quick perusal of the day’s news on my tablet before I was to begin my usual book reading that always knocks me out. I popped on the ESPN app and noticed a picture of the Dallas Cowboys kneeling in a national anthem-themed protest, the last of many that seemed to gobble up all of the oxygen over the weekend. Then I flipped over to Facebook, and one of the first things that came up on my Newsfeed was a post from Dan Rather, who was sharing his thoughts and a photo slideshow about the devastation in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. His thoughts are always poignant, and they led me to click on the link to the slideshow. What I saw was absolutely heartbreaking, an island decimated by the storm and so many of my fellow Americans without power, water, or help from a country that had just spent the last couple of weeks falling over itself to help the people and communities ravaged by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

It was quite a jolt, as I said. It was bedtime, though, so I forced myself to let it go and get to sleep. The jolt came right back to me the next morning, though, as I began my breakfast. My first, almost-panicked thought was, “Did I forget to share that slideshow??? People need to know!!” So I opened up Facebook on my phone, found it again, and shared it.

As the day went on, I was increasingly fascinated by my intense reaction to the images from Puerto Rico. Not my sadness or my empathy—that part was totally normal for me. The part that intrigued me was the terror I felt at missing this important news while it was happening. I realized that my panic at not absorbing the full extent of the devastation of Hurricane Maria on my fellow human beings was borne out of one thing: GUILT.

How could I have given those poor folks in Texas my emotional investment one week during Harvey, and those poor folks in Florida my emotional investment the next week during Irma, but then hardly notice when these poor folks in Puerto Rico were in even worse condition last week?  

I was very disturbed by this. My conscience was definitely eating at me. I felt like I had failed my moral obligation by not paying closer attention and lending my positive thoughts and my voice through my writing and social media posts, if not through direct monetary donations to the cause. I try to give voice when people are in need, to raise awareness and empathy, hopefully leading to both emotional and monetary resources being lent. But I had definitely let this one slip past me.

I started questioning my focus, looking for reasons why I had let my guard down and missed lending a voice to people who clearly needed all the help they could get. Maybe I was just looking for a good excuse. If I couldn’t get relief for my guilty conscience, I at least wanted an explanation to settle my mind.

I didn’t have to look far. It was right there in my journal entries and my social media posts and shares. I had spent the last several days deeply embedded in the controversy around the national anthem protests. This has actually been a pet project in my head for the last year, but it seemed to overtake the nation last week in the wake of the President’s incendiary comments and the reactions by football teams. It was a firestorm, at least in the view of the media that ultimately decides which topics will gain the most buzz and largest viewing audience.

I, of course, got into it. As I said, I latched onto this topic with Colin Kaepernick a year ago and have become increasingly invested, so I have read a lot about it, from both the historical and factual side of it as well as the many opinions swirling about. So, even though I think that much of the reaction from NFL teams was hypocritical and more of a response to the attack by the President rather than actual concern for injustice against people of color, I took advantage of the attention the topic was getting again and shared what I thought were some solid, helpful articles on social media. My attention and emotions were definitely on the topic, anyway. And since they were there, they were NOT in Puerto Rico. So, I missed it (or nearly so).

By way of excuse-making, though, it was totally obvious that nearly everyone missed it. The coverage on all of the networks and news outlets seemed as focused as I was on the national anthem and NFL’s response to the President. It was the media-driven firestorm that distracted us from the real storm in Puerto Rico and the desperate American citizens trying to survive in its wake.

I am definitely not trying to blame this on the media. They have taken more than their share of criticism this year, much of it unfair. Still, it is fascinating to me how completely dialed into the coverage of the previous hurricanes in Texas and Florida they were and then how clearly NOT dialed into this one they were.

I have no doubt that the NFL’s battle with the President over the national anthem is more sensational for the media to cover than the third consecutive week of hurricane coverage—is “hurricane fatigue” a real phenomenon?—but this situation in Puerto Rico is beyond tragic. I know that by the middle of this week it finally gathered some traction in the news, but we were all about a week late on this one. And when you are dealing with the health and welfare of fellow human beings—not to mention fellow Americans—that is a full week too long.

I know my guilty conscience was earned, but I think I am not the only one who should be feeling those pangs.

My point here is not to wallow in that guilt or to make you wallow in it—really, it’s not–but really to wonder about our responsibility toward the events of the world around us and how spread out our emotional energy amongst the wide array of issues.

Living in America in 2017 with the President that we have, it feels like one crisis or drama after another. We don’t need actual hurricanes to stir up our fears and our outrage or engender empathy toward people getting a bad deal; we have human-driven storms already (dozens of them) for that. We are living a storm! At least that is how it feels to me.

So, after I have used my journal or my wife or Facebook or whatever as a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on for things like anti-Muslim travel bans, threats of the loss of health care, Nazis and White supremacists marching in our streets, Russian corruption of our government, the killing of another unarmed Black person by police, or the White House denying climate change, it is hard work to then add forest fires (the thing that no one paid attention to before they weren’t paying attention to Puerto Rico) and three consecutive hurricanes to the emotional load I am carrying.

I know some of those are things to be outraged about and some of them are things to feel empathy about—and some are definitely both—but what if my outrage and my empathy get emptied from the same barrel? It feels like I only have so much emotional energy to give these dramas, and whether it is my heart breaking for the people in Puerto Rico or my outrage at the government’s slow response to it, I feel like it is all draining that barrel.

I just don’t know what to do about it. I want to be here for my world, an active participant in fighting injustice and helping those in need. But, just like last week, I feel like if I keep my eye on one ball, the others all fall out of the sky. I hate the helplessness and guilt I feel when that happens. I just don’t know how to spread it out the right way.

How about you? How do you spread your emotional energy around in these turbulent times? Open up your journal and write about the issues that move your needle and your process for balancing them in your head and heart. What types of things in the world get you stirred up? Presidential tweets and character issues? Racial injustice? Health care? Humanitarian crises? Forest fires? Religious persecution? Terrorism? National anthem protests? White House firings? Hurricane damage? Congressional ineptitude? Climate change denial? Taxes? Potential wars? White supremacists? Are your hot button topics more things that make you feel sad and empathetic, or things that make you feel outraged? Do you think that these things draw from the same well of energy? That is, does depleting your supply of one leave less of the other, at least at the temporarily? Do you ever feel bad that you emptied your barrel on “outrage issues” rather than “empathy issues” or vice versa? How big is your capacity to spread yourself amongst all of the issues that seem to run roughshod over our world today? Are you able to stay updated and also engage with them all emotionally? If not—and you are human, so I am guessing you cannot—how do you manage your attention and distribute your emotions according to your priorities? Are there certain issues (e.g. politics) that you just avoid altogether? Do you take “timeout” periods when you basically bury your head in the sand to replenish your heart and mind for the inevitable next round of drama? Do you “tagteam” the issues with friends or family members so that you can share the burden and use each other for emotional support? Do you feel guilty for “missing” an issue—like my lateness to Hurricane Maria—or do you see that as necessary for survival? Are most of these issues as big as we make them out to be, or are we overblowing them? Has the news media gotten us all hooked in their web by making so many things seem so urgent and necessary for us to attend to (then immediately moving on to something else)? I would love to hear how you spread yourself out, because obviously I am struggling with it? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you distribute your empathy and outrage in these emotional times?

Be Peace first,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, I hope you will share it with others. Let’s support one another!

The Belated Summer Reading List

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.” –William Styron

Hello friend,

You know those Summer Reading Lists you see in the magazines and on websites around Memorial Day? I love those lists! You know the ones: they assume you have unlimited time in the Summer, so they tell you all the cool books to read by the beach or pool as you chill your way through the season. They give you some hot new authors and some literary giants, some fiction and some nonfiction. Everyone has one of these lists: Oprah, Amazon, Goodreads, The Washington Post, PBS, you name it. They always get me so excited about my favorite thing: books!

Well, I am sorry to say that you will not find one of those great Summer Book Lists on this page next May!

I have never been one to plan my reading. I go by intuition. When I finish one book, I just scour the shelves and the lists and choose the one that feels right to me. Before I look, I cannot tell you if I will be choosing a title in Teen Fiction, New Age, Classics, Self-Help, History, Humor, or Memoir. I find something to love in all of them as long as I trust my gut in the choosing.

So, my apologies for not providing you with yet another prescription for your Summer reading. Because guess what: September is here, and Autumn is knocking!

Thus, the best I can do for you is to tell you about all the great stuff I read over the Summer. Like the usual lists, I have a mix of genres for you and a mix of authors new and old. So, lets get started!

I came into the Summer reading Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. I had seen the movie years ago when it came out, not knowing it had been a book. Thankfully, though, by the time I got around to the book, I had no recollection of the movie, except a few of the stunning visual images. I always enjoy a book that has something of the spiritual woven into the story, so this was a good start to my Summer reading. It also helped that much of it took place in hot climates and on the water, which put my mind in the right spot for the season.

Alongside my personal reading, I also read every night at bedtime with my daughter, who just turned nine during the course of the Summer. Our very first book of the season was Roald Dahl’s Matilda, which was fun. We then moved into the complex web of people and places in Middle Earth with J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings. The book is enormous and not exactly in my genre wheelhouse, so I was relieved when we finished the second of the six “books” in the book—enough to get us through what would have been the first of the three movies—and my daughter decided we should move on to something different. Maybe some day we will return for the rest. It won’t bother me if we don’t.

The next book for me was James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain. I had recently watched the magnificent and moving documentary about Baldwin, “I Am Not Your Negro”, and was eager to get into his writing. I knew he was famous for his nonfiction essays and his fiction, and though I figured the nonfiction would be just my speed—I was drawn to The Fire Next Time–I decided on this more famous novel. I should have gone with my gut. Though I certainly appreciated his writing and very much liked certain chapters, the subject matter just didn’t hold me very well. I was ready for something new.

It was not lost on me that perhaps I was striking out because I was trying out novels. Though I enjoy all genres, my go-to areas tend to be autobiographies and nonfiction (self-help, spiritual, or anything that expands my knowledge). I generally spread out my fiction attempts.   For whatever reason, though, I was in the mood for more fiction.

After these misses and with my determination to find a novel that I loved, I was beginning to wonder if my Summer reading was going to be a giant FAIL. How wrong I was!

It was just at that moment of doubt that I struck literary gold (er, purple). It was Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. I had seen the film version many years before—it is my wife’s favorite movie—but had forgotten most of it (which I always think is a godsend). It was brilliant on so many fronts and I was completely moved by the story and the complications of social injustice. It is a true masterpiece for any season.

I thank Alice Walker for starting my Summer hot streak, because I came into some wonderful words after that one. I always love when someone gives me a book, because I know it is, quite literally, meant for me. So it was with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, a book about keeping curiosity and artistic expression in your life forever. I don’t know if everyone would connect to this book, but I surely did. It helped me to put my writing habit/passion into perspective with my bigger life. Truly, it changed my thinking. Behold, the power of books!

As I read that one, I also started a novel recommended to me by my teenage nieces: Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay For Now. It may have taken me a couple of chapters to warm up to it, but then I was in. It is books like that one (probably aimed at early teens) and Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars (both categorized as Teen Fiction) that prove to me that “great books for kids” are truly great books for adults. I will read Okay For Now with my daughter in a couple years, no doubt.

Speaking of my daughter, we moved from The Lord of the Rings to Island of the Blue Dolphins. It was interesting, not mind-blowing. Then we went to the Deep South with perhaps America’s signature novel, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. I had last read it in high school and—surprise, surprise—had forgotten what the story was all about. Though we both liked it, in hindsight I would have also waited a couple more years to read this one with her. It forced some discussions that would be better suited for the light of day rather than in a dark room at bedtime. But still, a great book.

While that was going on, I was engrossed in an absolute gem of a book, Between the World and Me. Written in the form of a letter from the author, Ta-Nehisi Coates, to his teenage son, this book is simultaneously enlightening and devastatingly sad. And the quality of the writing is unparalleled. It is an essential read for anyone trying to deepen their empathy, and particularly trying to understand what it feels like to be a Black man in America. It gripped me completely and remains with me weeks later.

So grateful for this beautiful stretch of reading, I moved into the final days of Summer with three of my pet topics: death, religion/spirituality, and the Holocaust.

My niece, also a student of religions, gave me a copy of Peter Rollins’s The Orthodox Heretic, a book of modern parables and commentary. It touches on a topic that often riles me up, which is the incongruity between the teachings of Jesus and the actions of his followers. I am plodding slowly through this one and am only halfway there, but I quite like all of the things it stirs in me. It is wonderful fodder for journal entries.

I happen to have a perhaps-unhealthy fascination (maybe obsession) with death, especially “premature” death and how to come to grips with it. With that, I selected Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, which tracked the strange tricks her mind played on her in the year following her husband’s sudden death. I came away with more empathy for those who have lost loved ones and a greater understanding of the enormous power, longevity, and unpredictability of grief.

Staying with the Death theme, I moved to Tell My Sons, by Lt. Col. Mark M. Weber. I was drawn to it because it was written as a letter of advice and guidance from a father who was dying of cancer to his three sons. That is the kind of thing I imagine myself doing if such a dreadful diagnosis arrives at my doorstep. I am still in the middle of it, but it has already led to lots of morbid daydreaming.

The last book on my Summer list, which I will finish today, is Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry. I am reading it with my daughter, as the protagonist is a girl only a year older, whose family is helping their friends, a Jewish family, to escape the Nazis during World War II. It is well done, another “kid book” that is appropriate for adults.

That’s it! That was my Summer of Reading! Well, of course, I read hundreds of articles to keep me informed on the madness that is our world today, too, but I love the books so much more. I learned from each one and would recommend each (but to different people). If you made me choose the ones that impressed me the most, I would go with The Color Purple and Between the World and Me, for both their ideas and the quality of the writing.

I don’t know why I chose so many fiction titles—nine of the fourteen—compared to my usual pace. Perhaps it was the spirit of the season, the way those Summer Book List articles glamorize the “page-turner” novels as poolside reads. I don’t regret it, though. It was fun! I don’t have a clue as to what I will read and suggest to you for next Summer. Tell you what: I’ll let you know next Fall!

How about you? What have you been reading all Summer? Open up your journal and make a timeline and some book reports. What is on your list? Did you read mostly fiction or nonfiction? Is that normal for you? How did you decide what to read? Did you take any recommendations from the “Hot Books for Summer” lists from the magazines or websites? Did you use your social media community? I always love when I see a post where one of my friends asks for book recommendations, because I then scour the Comments section for ideas. Did any of your books open your eyes to the way other people live and see the world—The Color Purple and Between the World and Me did this for me—or change the way you look at the big things in your normal life, like Big Magic did for me? What else did your Summer books do for you? Give you an escape? Teach you a new skill or idea? Remind you of what is important? Make you treat yourself better? Make you treat others better? Frighten you? Inspire you?  Which will you recommend the most?  Which is your favorite?  Aren’t books just totally amazing??? I love them! Is there something different about Summer reading? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is on your Summer Reading List?

Live a thousand lives,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Let’s get our lists together!

The Dream Summer Road Trip

Hello friend,

“To travel is to live.” –Hans Christian Andersen

My sister sent me a photo this week, and my mind was instantly transported back in time.

It was the Summer of 1993. I was 21 years old, and my best buddy Johnny and I were embarking on a grand adventure. He had a blue Chevy Blazer—“The B”—and we packed that thing to the gills! We pictured ourselves as these rugged outdoorsmen, ready to sleep with the animals, catch our meals, and tear up all the trails of the great Rocky Mountains. The truth is that we were complete amateurs at everything and thus basically packed every item we owned into that car–you know, just in case—so that there wasn’t an inch of space left anywhere, including on my feet and lap. Camping gear, fishing gear, groceries, cooler, big garbage bags full of clothes, and a sweet, old-school camera that belonged to John’s old man (we thought we would become a couple of modern-day Ansel Adamses). Oh yeah, and our bikes on the back. You might have thought we were leaving for a year. We figured a few weeks.

As any two fools would, we set off on our eleven-hour first leg of the trip around ten o’clock at night. It was a narrow, two-lane highway across the pitch-black night of the empty prairie, lined with occasional white crosses where people had gone off the road and died, which served as not-so-subtle reminders to stay awake. There was no one out there but us, but our souls were on fire with visions of the mountains as we made our way through the night powered by Mountain Dew and Chicago’s “Greatest Hits 1982-1989” album. A couple of flatlanders headed for the high country.

In life, there are a small handful of exquisite moments when you are on the cusp of something truly game-changing. Something deep inside you is doing cartwheels because it knows that what you are about to experience is so special that you will never look at the world the same way again. Driving West across the black emptiness that night, I knew I was in the midst of one of those moments.

Those next few weeks were pure Bliss for me. I felt so much like a kid in a candy store every second of the day. Glacier National Park was our first and most-dreamed-about destination. Though I had skied every year in Montana when I was a kid, Glacier was like nothing I had ever seen before. The sheer majesty of the place was absolutely heart-stopping. I felt drunk as I climbed the steep trails, jumped across boulders in the middle of the rushing streams, and dipped my feet into the icy-cold, crystalline waters of the mountain lakes. I had found my Paradise.

It pained my heart to leave Glacier after those dream-like days of exploring, but I was buoyed by thoughts of all the unexplored miles ahead of us. We were just getting started! In the days that followed, we made our way through Western Montana and down to the shores of the Madison River, where my brother happened to be living in a tent for the Summer. He schooled us in the beauty of fly-fishing for a few days and led us up a crazy trail on our mountain bikes. After that, we headed South through the jagged Tetons and on down to the Great Salt Lake in Utah, where my other brother lived (not in a tent). Then it was time to turn back North and start for home.

On our last night on the road, again in the dark of night, we pulled into a remote Forest Service campground on one end of the Beartooth Highway outside of Yellowstone. The rain was pouring too hard to even attempt to get out and set up the tent, so we laughed at our luck and stayed right there in our seats for the rest of the night, because, as I mentioned, there was not even a hint of open space in the car, not even to recline our seats. It was a short, uncomfortable night, and we pulled out of our spot at first light to climb the Beartooth Pass, one of the most beautiful drives anywhere in the wide world. At the other end of the pass, all that was left was the last nine or ten hours to home.

It was truly one of those epic, journey-of-a-lifetime kind of deals: adventure, bonding with friends and family, and episodes both touching and silly, all set against a backdrop of Mother Nature’s most spectacular beauty. It was the best of times.

So, when my sister sent me a photo a couple days ago of her passing through Glacier National Park with her family, the memories came flooding back. It reminded me of all of the great Summer roadtrips I used to take out there. After that first trip 24 years ago, so enchanted was I that I made a point of getting to Glacier every Summer for several years in a row. It always left me completely spellbound.

Then my life changed. I moved further away and took on more commitments. I hate to admit how many years it been since I have been to my Glacier, or even to any of the mountains of the glorious Western range. So many years.

What my sister’s photo produced, in addition to the glow from thoughts of those halcyon days, was a fantasy of another epic trip to the mountains and open spaces of the American West. And the road.  

As much as I would love to do it again with my old buddy Johnny—and he would be up for it—and as much as I bask in a solo adventure, my life these days is about building wonderful memories for my kids and expanding their view of the world. So, this time anyway, this fantasy is a family road trip.

Here’s how I see it. We load up the car—though, maybe since it’s a fantasy, we say it’s a small RV–with camping gear and cool beverages and venture the two longest, least scenic days of the trip across our Minnesota, North Dakota (spending the night at my old house so it is just like leaving on my trip with Johnny), and Eastern Montana. We spend a day in Lewistown, Montana with my brother’s family. From there, we go straight for Glacier, where we spend a few days hiking in my Paradise and driving the Going To The Sun Road, stopping at all the scenic lookouts and taking in the bears, mountain goats, and big horn sheep. We may even give my wife a break from the tent and stay at the Lake McDonald Lodge.

Fully refreshed and invigorated from Glacier, we will head South through the Flathead Valley, through Missoula, and down through the Bitterroot National Forest into Idaho along the Salmon River. We will cut West across the Boise National Forest and into the middle of Oregon, turning South at Bend and through the forest to Crater Lake and beyond.

Leaving Oregon, we will come into all new territory for me (I have done the California coast, but never the Sierra Nevadas). We will travel inland through the many National Forests of Northern California before hitting the big National Parks: Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia, finally cutting across Death Valley and zipping past Las Vegas on our way to the Grand Canyon.

From the Grand Canyon, we will turn back North to check out the National Parks of Utah: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches.

By that point, I will be in serious need of seeing big trees again, so we will drive a little faster North through Utah and back into Idaho, veering slightly Northeast toward Jackson, Wyoming and Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton is connected to Yellowstone, the oldest National Park in the world. We will spend a couple of days in that geological playground before getting on that same Beartooth Highway that Johnny and I took all those years ago. But instead of heading for North Dakota this time, we will turn back Southeast out of Montana, through Northeast Wyoming, and into the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, where we will check out Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse carved into the hillsides. And from there, it is a mere 600 miles straight back home.

Boom!

Now, I realize that would get to be a pretty long trip (I am guessing a solid four weeks). I only know a few people who vacation for that long, and I am not one of them anymore. I have a shorter, smaller/“realistic” fantasy, though. In this case, I would start the same way through Glacier, but instead of leaving for Idaho and the West Coast from the Bitterroot Valley, I would work back toward Yellowstone, then hit Mount Rushmore on the way home. That could easily be done in less than two weeks. We would see a ton of beautiful country and make memories that would last a lifetime. I am grinning from ear to ear just thinking about it!

How about you? What does your dream Summer road trip look like? Open up your journal, your road atlas, and your Google Maps and start plotting the route. What part of the country comes immediately to your mind? What gives that area such a spark for you? Is it a famous landmark? A happy personal memory? Somewhere you have always wondered about? Somewhere a friend recommended? Is your fantasy trip to one main spot or a multi-spot journey like mine? How long will your trip take? Could you imagine moving to a spot on your trip? Have you been on this trip before? If so, how long ago was it? Who would you take along, if anyone? Who has been your favorite road trip partner in the past? What makes a good road companion? Does the vision of a long road trip stir the same type of romantic notions in you that it does in me, or are you more like, “Just fly me to my destination as quickly as possible.”? What would an adventure like this mean to you? Describe your most epic road adventure to date. How does your fantasy trip compare? How likely are you to take this dream drive? How soon can you make it happen? Leave me a reply and let me know: What is the itinerary for your dream Summer road trip?

Grow your world,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, pass it on. Happy trails!

Friendly Warning: Do Not Sleep Through Summer (Again)!

“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.” –Jean de La Bruyére, Les Caractéres

Hello friend,

I remember last year at Labor Day. I was returning from the lake with my kids. I am always very contemplative when I am driving home from a trip. The kids sit in back and watch a movie, and I am left alone to take stock of my life and re-orient my mind to the real world. On that particular drive, I was feeling the sadness that every Labor Day brings, fully aware that Summer was officially over and that there would be no more weekends at the lake until the next Summer, which felt a million years away.

It wasn’t just my characteristic Labor Day sadness that sticks out from that drive, though. It was the regret. It was the disappointment.

I had not done enough with the Summer. I had not capitalized on all of the opportunities of my season. There were so many more Summery things that I wanted to do, that I had told myself I would do before the season had started.

More beach writings. More trail runs. More bike rides. More campfires. More s’mores. More photos. More nature walks. More kayaking.   More tennis. More driveway basketball. More stargazing. More playgrounds. More hammock time. More roadtrips. More boat rides.

That is the stuff of Summer for me. And in that car on the way home last Labor Day, I knew that I hadn’t done enough of it. I had gotten too busy and too lazy. I had let my little windows of alone time slip by. It was too easy to choose to write on the sofa versus loading my backpack and biking down to the beach to write. The gym was easier than gearing up for a kayak ride or trail run. Weekends away and staying up late by the fire seemed like too much hassle. The hammock and the nature walks didn’t feel productive enough.

I am the first to admit that I am generally (and unhealthily) obsessed with being productive and always having something to show for my time (e.g. so many words written, pages read, or tasks knocked off the To-Do List). But, really, is your ideal Summer supposed to be described as “productive”? To me, that sounds like a good word for the other seasons. You know, the ones that have cold in them.

Maybe all along I should have been aiming for different adjectives to describe how my favorite season would be. How about fun? Adventurous? Soul-stirring? Enriching? Invigorating? Inspiring? Liberating? Enchanting? Yes, these all sound wonderful. But just plain old fun is perfect. “How was your Summer?” you ask. “It was nonstop fun!” That is exactly how I wish my response had been last Labor Day.

So, of course, on that contemplative drive home—and on almost every day after until June rolled around—I vowed that I would redeem myself this Summer. I would engage all of these beautiful, inviting days and live them fully. I would absolutely suck the marrow out of Summer this time!

I even had a list going in my head, the things that I would definitely do to make me feel satisfied when the next Labor Day rolls around. These are just some of the items on my Satisfying Summer Checklist for this year:

  • Take my kayak out at least three times
  • Become a regular outdoor journal writer
  • Find several new spots to try out my portable hammock
  • Take my kids to our local beach regularly
  • Get my ancient mountain bike fixed and ride the area trails
  • Roadtrip to the family lake cabin at least three times
  • Roadtrip to visit my sister and her family
  • Play tennis several times with other adults
  • Teach my kids tennis at least once per week
  • Do several trail runs
  • Use the neighborhood fire pit and roast marshmallows with my kids
  • A few daytrips to regional parks for hiking with my wife and kids
  • Make a habit of taking my daughter to the local lakes on early weekend mornings for father-daughter bonding time
  • Play a lot of driveway basketball with my son
  • Take lots of photos of the whole wild ride

That was a start, anyway. My mind seems to add new To-Do items every day, and the Wish List grows. But that stuff marked the basics for my Satisfying Summer Checklist.

Well, I just looked at the calendar and realized we are almost halfway to Labor Day. Gosh, that sneaks up, doesn’t it?!? So, how am I doing with my list?

Well………

Okay, there are some positives. I am about to take the second roadtrip to the family lake cabin for what has become my and my children’s favorite week of the year (score!), so only one more to go on that one. I did get the mountain bike fixed, but I have only been out in the dirt with it once so far. I have been writing most of my journal entries outdoors, though usually it is just on my deck (but at least it is usually in a hammock!). I have done pretty well getting the kids to the tennis court, not as well getting my own practice in. I have taken my kayak out (once). I have done a couple of trail runs. The driveway basketball is happening. I have not made the roadtrip to my sister’s place, but my intentions are still there. The portable hammock has been used (but not enough). We have not done the fire and s’mores (well, we microwaved them once!). We have only done the local beach once. We have failed completely on the regional parks and hiking. The discovered gem in the lot has been the father-daughter bonding time early Sunday mornings at the local lakes—absolutely priceless. And there have been some good photos of the ride.

If I had to give myself a grade so far, I would say maybe a C-. I have definitely done some small portion of many of my items, which is good. But there is much more than half left to do in this final half of Summer in order to achieve Satisfying Summer status.

I better get busy being NOT BUSY. I must get more ambitious about my leisure, more serious about my fun. I need to buckle down, because now that the Fourth of July is over, you know what the next holiday is, right?

Labor Day.

It won’t be long before I am taking that long, contemplative drive back home from the lake on that final day of Summer. Though I am guaranteed to feel a bit sad that day at the passing of my favorite season, my hope is that I will have done enough in the second half so that I don’t have to mix regret and disappointment with my sadness.

I needed this check-in to get real with myself about my laziness and excuses. It’s half over, friend. We have now been warned! I am planning to heed it this year. Carpe Summer!!!

How about you? Are you making the most of this precious and fleeting gift called Summer? Open up your journal and go through your own checklist? Are you satisfied with how you have been using your time lately? Start with how you want to feel this Summer and how you want to describe your Summer when it ends. What words would you choose? Is “FUN” one of them? Regardless of your adjectives, what activities are on your Satisfying Summer Checklist? Are they things that are quite unique to the season or things that you carry along all year? In either case, how are you doing for the first half of the season? Have you gotten most items on your list started at least? How many items are finished? How many have you not even touched yet? What kind of grade would you give yourself so far? Now, knowing that you still have plenty of time to make necessary changes and do great things, how confident are you that you will improve your grade by the time Labor Day rolls around? Which items will you prioritize? Are there any items that you will get rid of? Any new ones to add? Does making a To-Do List and scoring your progress take some of the fun out of it and kind of defeat the purpose of making it fun and stress-free, or do you appreciate that it keeps your priorities straight? For me, I need the reminder from time to time. Keeping fresh air and fun in the forefront of my mind is crucial for me. How about you? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do you need to do to finish this Summer right?

Adventure is out there,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Make the most of your days!

The Movie Lines That Narrate My Life

“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are memories of our lifetime, we need to keep them alive.” –Martin Scorsese

Hello friend,

“BUONGIORNO, PRINCIPESSA!!!!”

If those words—and the image of Roberto Benigni’s effervescent spirit—bring an instant smile to your face, you just might be a member of my tribe. They come from the film Life Is Beautiful, one of my all-time favorites. And even though the movie’s dialogue is all in Italian, somehow that line has become part of the story of my life, something I quote regularly and smile about often. That is how a great movie is, and especially a well-written one.

I love writers and their words. Whether they come from a song, a newspaper, a novel, a blog, or a screenplay, I am captivated by the language that these talented people use to tell the story of our lives and times. While I definitely appreciate journalists and non-fiction writers—I include myself in this category—I am particularly envious and in awe of the writers who pull these amazing tales and beautiful words right out of their souls. It is an astonishing gift.

What makes movies such a transcendent art-form to me is that they combine the writer’s beautiful gift with the talents of so many other artists: actors, directors, cinematographers, lighting designers, costume designers, musicians, and on and on. All of these great artists come together for one thing: to bring to life the words of the writer.

And they live! Oh, how they live.

I don’t know about you, but one of the ways I assess people is how well they incorporate movie lines into their everyday lives. Someone who can effortlessly insert a great quote into their conversation that fits the situation perfectly absolutely scores some points in my book.

It has been a while since I was fluent on the popular movies of the day—one of the many failings that I blame on having children—but I still cling to memories of my old favorites (and I have even added my kids’ animated selections to my repertoire). And since I spend much of my time alone or with children, much of my dialogue is contained among the many characters swimming around in my head. They seem to have fun, though, so I don’t judge. Let them talk!

These are some of the lines that regularly make their way into the screenplay of my life (I will try to give you the clean version, though truthfully, I have quite a knack for internal commentary that is a bit more, shall we say, colorful). Enjoy! 

“No pain! No Pain!” –Duke, Rocky IV. Perfect for pretending I am really working out hard. Otherwise, I just sing “Eye of the Tiger”. 

“Ah man, first The Fat Boys break up, and now this!” –Boney T, Boomerang. When something good ends, it is comforting to have Chris Rock’s voice in my head. 

“Ah, hon, ya got Arby’s all over me.” –Marge, Fargo. I have little ones, so I am muttering this one all day long. 

“My father stormed the beach at Normandy!” –Teddy, Stand By Me. I have this at the ready any time someone starts telling a potentially embarrassing story—as inevitably they all are—about a family member of mine. 

“South America. It’s like America, but South.” –Ellie, Up. I insert this into any conversation about geography. What? 

“What the hell is Goofy?” –Vern, Stand By Me. If your children spend any time watching Disney and Mickey Mouse, you need this line to keep you sane. Trust me. 

“I’m not a smart man….but I know what love is.” –Forrest, Forrest Gump. Because I have a lot of opportunities to remind myself that I am not a smart man. 

“You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity.” –Buzz, Toy Story. Though this will come into your head often in this world, I recommend keeping the words inside most of the time. 

“It’s all happening.” –Polexia, Almost Famous. In one of those rare moments when everything seems to be coming together for me, this says it all. 

“I don’t sweat you.” –Paulie, Rocky II. I use this one as trash-talk when I am playing driveway basketball with my six-year-old. He has no idea what I am talking about. Whatever. 

“Supermodels are beautiful girls, Will. A beautiful girl can make you dizzy, like you’ve been drinking Jack and Coke all morning. She can make you feel high, full of the single greatest commodity known to man: promise. Promise of a better day. Promise of a greater hope. Promise of a new tomorrow. This particular aura can be found in the gait of a beautiful girl. In her smile, in her soul, the way she makes every rotten little thing about life seem like it’s going to be okay. The supermodels, Willy, that’s all they are: bottled promise. Scenes from a brand new day. Hope dancing in stiletto heels.” –Paul, Beautiful Girls. Sometimes just quoting any line from this movie in any situation makes me giggle. But Paul is pure in his romantic buffoonery. So I love this monologue. If I don’t have it all in me, I go with his shorter version: “A beautiful girl is all-powerful, and that is as good as love. That’s as good as love.” Hee hee! 

“Chopper, sic balls!” –Milo, Stand By Me. This one works for any yippy dog in my neighborhood or in the car next to me at a stoplight. 

“I can smell you.” –Dug, Up. I have a sensitive sniffer, so I have to amuse myself when it gets offended . It’s either this or the Top Gun gem “Slider, you stink.” 

“Until you do right by me, everything you even think about gonna fail!” –Celie, The Color Purple. My wife loves to break this one out on me. She’s usually joking. 

“Love is a many splendored thing. Love lifts us up where we belong. All you need is love!” –Christian, Moulin Rouge. Love is a deep topic; you might as well make a melodious montage out of it! 

“You’re the gourmet around here, Eddie.” –Clark, Vacation. Great for when someone wants to share cooking stories with me and I have nothing to add.

“Willie C!!! Stay cool, man. Stay cool forever.” –Kev, Beautiful Girls. This is enough of a goodbye for me. Sincerity makes the words become magic. 

“You want to get out of here…..GET RID OF THAT MONKEY!!!” Chatter Telephone, Toy Story 3. When my kids are asking over and over when we can leave, I throw this back at them. Or just anytime (some things are just fun to say). 

“You got to coordinate.” –Mr. Jackson, Boomerang. This just makes getting dressed so much more enjoyable. 

“Honey, I’m not an ordained minister.” –Clark, Vacation. I like to pull this one out whenever I am doing something out of my league (assembling something with tools, mathematics, etc.). 

“Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” –John Keating, Dead Poets Society. Because sometimes it is not a joke. Sometimes I need a reminder about what this thing called Life is all about. 

“Do you like apples? Do you like apples? Well, I got her number! How do you like them apples?” –Will, Good Will Hunting. When I need to rub something in someone’s face, I break out my thickest Boston accent for this one.

“This house is ours.” –Grace, The Others. When my wife is freaking out after hearing a strange noise in the house, I call upon the ghosts. It momentarily quells the fear. Or intensifies it.

“I will fight on!!!!” –William Wallace, Braveheart. When I am watching Roger Federer play tennis—totally stressing out—and he wins a huge point, I shout this, in my best Scottish accent, at the top of my lungs. My wife shakes her head upstairs. 

“Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?” –Clark, Vacation. My version of a compliment to the chef. 

“Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can’t take it, and my heart is just going to cave in.” –Ricky Fitts, American Beauty. You should be so lucky to have a few of these moments in life, quote or no quote.

“Double Burger. Double Burger. Chuck-I-had-a-Double-Burger.” –Morgan, Good Will Hunting. Always appropriate when waiting impatiently for someone. 

“The list is life.” –Stern, Schindler’s List. What did we need at the grocery store? 

“I wish I knew how to quit you, Ennis!” –Jack, Brokeback Mountain. Though this comes from a serious moment in the film, I like to pull it out when my wife is teasing me about something. It makes me laugh. 

“I’m sorry I had a fight in the middle of your Black Panther party.” –Forrest, Forrest Gump. Because sometimes just trying to imitate Forrest is enough to keep me going. “That’s my boat,” “Hey Bubba,” and many others work, too. 

“Now, a question of etiquette: as I pass, do I give you the ass or the crotch?” –Tyler Durden, Fight Club. Though this was an airplane scene in the movie, I smirk as I think this line while scooching down any row anywhere in the world. School programs and church are particularly amusing.

Oh, I could go on and on! And I do, most of the day through. How else does a guy survive? I am not as funny as these screenwriters, so I must steal their lines. It keeps me smiling, anyway. And though we could banter all day, I will leave off with a final thought from my friend, Forrest Gump: “That’s all I have to say about that.”

How about you? What movie lines do you use to narrate your daily life? Open up your journal, and maybe your entertainment cabinet for a reminder. What quotes seem to flow out of you on a regular basis? Are there a couple that have become your staples? Do they come from your most favorite movies, or are they just great lines? Do your normal quotes come from movies you have seen a million times? Are they from your childhood or adulthood? Do you say them mostly in your head or out loud? In conversation, do you use them with people for whom the line is a shared inside joke, or with anyone at any time? How often do the people understand where the line comes from? Does that matter to you? Is it more fun when they get it or when they don’t? Why do you use the quotes? Do they say things better than you can? Do they just make conversation—internal and external—more interesting? Do they make ordinary events more tolerable, even exciting? Do they help you through the worst of times? Do they help you connect with others? Do they simply make you laugh? For me, all of those apply. I guess they just help me tell my story my way, simply through the lines that I choose, which vary by the day. How about you? Which quotes do you choose most often? Leave me a reply and let me know: Which movie lines narrate your life?

Smile at your world,

William

P.S. If this letter made you smile or think, I hope you will pass it on.

All I Got From My Vacation Was…..

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we will find it not.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

I am having a hard time mustering up the drive to write to you today. My family and I just got back from a week of vacation, and my mind is still floating in that lazy haze of sand and sunshine. In many ways, I have not quite returned yet. I haven’t admitted to myself that it is time for “real life” again (whatever that even means). However, despite my stubborn denial, I know that tomorrow will find me back to the usual Monday routine. So, while I still have a last hazy moment to cling to, I feel the need to put a little bow on my week of escape.

I have been drifting blissfully in the moment for seven days, not working too hard to process the state of my life as a whole or even the state of those vacation days. My journal entries from those days show few deep thoughts and breakthroughs, few philosophical dissertations, and few great lessons and takeaways from each of those days. Mostly it shows a mind floating in easy-breezy vacation nothingness.

But it was NOT nothing! It had to be something! If it was nothing, I would not be still feeling both hazy and deeply sentimental a few days later. I would not have been near tears as I made a slide show of my trip photos yesterday. No, it was definitely something. I just have been too woozy to nail down exactly what that something was.

Right from the first night, when my Dad drove us straight from the airport to the beach just before sunset, my vacation was a reminder. It was a reminder that I am at home on the water. More specifically, I am at home IN the water. Despite a cool evening breeze and no towels to dry with, I could not resist diving right into to the chilly saltwater, hooting and whooping in delight as I rode a few waves right up onto the sand and tossed my excited kids into the surf. That water entered my soul that night and stayed all week, reminding me how organic it is to my very being. In that reminder, I also felt how tragic it had been that I had neglected that aspect of my soul for so many years, but I chose to let that regret go and simply bask in the overwhelming sense of Joy and Peace that can only be felt when one has returned Home. The water is certainly my spiritual Home. What a blissful reminder!

My vacation also reminded me of something critical to my purpose in life: to expose my children to as much of this world as I can. I try to remember this in my daily life. I read them books and show them videos of people doing brave and interesting things. I encourage them to try different sports and activities. I tell them stories about my childhood and the things I have done in my life. I ask their teachers to challenge their limits. I try to model curiosity, open-mindedness, and a love of books.   These are good things, I know.

But this trip reminded me that there is nothing quite like an adventure when it comes to broadening your horizons. Having a manatee swim by you as you are playing in the ocean, racing barefoot on a golf course at night, boating through canals full of homes worth 20 and 30 million dollars each, flying on an airplane for the first time, walking the beach with your Grandma collecting seashells. These are things that require an adventure. I was tickled every time I saw my kids’ eyes light up with the newness and wonder of Life beyond their usual borders. My eyes were glowing, too!

My vacation also reminded me of the fleeting nature of these chances to do life this way with these people. The childhoods of my kids, now 6 and 8, are flying by. Up until a few years ago, they were thrilled every time a friend of mine—whom they call “Uncle”–came over to play. He made them giggle to no end and happily joined us for things like sledding and birthday cake. Then he moved away, and no one has replaced him. On our vacation, they got to see him again, and it was like they didn’t miss a beat. Magic! But those years pass in a blink, and it is so easy to miss these things. Not just for the kids, but for me, too.

After a blissful vacation week with my parents, they dropped us off at the airport to go home. We said a quick goodbye at the curb and lugged our stuff inside. As the sliding doors closed behind us, I turned and looked back as my Mom and Dad each closed their car door and drove off. They didn’t see me as I watched them disappear. Already feeling sentimental from saying goodbye, I suddenly had the very sad realization that there may not be so many more adventures and goodbyes with them. Of course, any of us could fall ill or die at any point, but the odds change as you get to their age. I don’t know if it was the cumulative result of a week’s time with them, talking of my uncle’s recent death and the health issues of other of their friends and family members, but for some reason, seeing them drive away made me so grateful and sad. It can’t be forever, I thought, but it can be now. Cherish it. Cherish them.

And that reminded me of my last big takeaway from my vacation, something I kept noticing in passing during the week but never quite solidifying in my mind or noting in my hazy journal entries. The reminder: It’s never too late.

In recent years, I hardly ever see my parents unless there is a big crowd of their children and grandchildren gathered together in one of their houses. In that chaotic atmosphere, my old man tends to play the role of the crotchety, distant guy who might grouse about how messy you are making his house or give you a little teasing but never gets very lovey or just hangs out with you and gets to know you. His kids (and some of his grandkids) all know he is a great, big-hearted guy underneath that prickly veneer, so we let it slide and love him for what is true. My kids, though, because of the crowded and infrequent visits, have never gotten to that point with him. My son has enjoyed trading tickles and barbs a few times and never minds a little ribbing, so they have been fine but never close. My daughter, though, is more about gentle, deep, and intimate relationships and thus never seemed to bond with her grandfather. When I would remind her to give him a hug, it always seemed forced, almost scared in its distance. I always lamented that. And I figured that would be how it remained.

Imagine my delight, then, when I saw him, on our first night, walking side-by-side with my son like old friends. Or the next day, when I saw him voluntarily give my daughter a little hug and call her “Honey” in conversation. Or, at the end of the week, as I watched the three of them—my old man, my daughter, and my son—walk off together down the beach, no hesitation and no questions asked. There was genuine affection there. A bond had formed. It was totally cool. Priceless, really. If he should happen to leave us soon, their lasting feelings and memories of him will be completely different than they were before this week. That right there made the whole trip worthwhile.

But the rest was alright, too, I guess. I think I will try this vacation thing again someday!

How about you? What were your takeaways from your last vacation? Open up your journal and your memory and take a trip. What was your last real getaway? How big was it in your life? How long had you daydreamed about it? Was it more about action (e.g. a ski trip) or pure relaxation (e.g. the beach)? Who was with you? What did the vacation do for your relationships with your companions? Did it completely change any of them? For the better or worse? Did it change the way you relate to the people who weren’t on the trip? Did it recharge your battery? Did you have any big “A-Ha!” moments, when something important struck you? I find that whenever I travel—whether it is because of all the time in the car or sitting in the airport or on the beach or whatever—I usually end up doing a lot of soul-searching. How about you? How well are you able to leave your regular life behind and just be on vacation? Do you think that makes it easier to put your regular life in perspective? Is that a big part of what vacation is all about? Leave me a reply and let me know: What did your last vacation do for you?

Roll the windows down,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it. Let’s stir each other up!

The Lyrics That Sing To My Soul

“I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself to hold on to these moments as they pass.” –Counting Crows, A Long December

Hello friend,

I love that lyric from A Long December by Adam Duritz, the lead singer of Counting Crows. As a natural chronicler of life events and someone who is drawn almost as much to depressing songs as to sappy love songs, those words jumped out of that song and into my soul the very first time I heard it. That is how amazing the right lyrics can be.

Honestly, that is how almost all of Adam Duritz’s words are for me. Even when his images are obscure and open to interpretation, they always seem to climb into me and be interpreted by my soul before my brain even becomes involved. From the moment I heard the Counting Crows’ first album, August and Everything After, I was mesmerized and truly shaken by the images and the sadness that it nestled into my heart. I could quote from any of the songs for examples, as they have taken turns as Most Favorite through the years as my life has changed and various live renditions have surfaced. But I will stick with my first love, Anna Begins, which is about trying to resist falling in love as it is overtaking him. There are individual lines that stand out on their own, like this gem: “These seconds when I’m shaking leave me shuddering for days,” she says. But, really, the whole thing is a masterpiece. As much as I hate to leave any words out, here are a couple of my favorite passages:

This time when kindness falls like rain, It washes me away.  And Anna begins to change my mind.  And every time she sneezes, I believe it’s love.  And I’m not ready for this sort of thing. 

She’s talking in her sleep.  It’s keeping me awake.  And Anna begins to toss and turn.  And every word is nonsense, but I understand.  And oh Lord, I’m not ready for this sort of thing.

I just love those beautiful words! I love the song, too, but I love the words most. These sad ones are from Raining In Baltimore on the same album:

There’s things I remember and things I forget.  I miss you; I guess that I should.  Three thousand five hundred miles away, but what would you change if you could?

I used to think it was obvious that a good song must have amazing lyrics. It turns out that is just not true. I have been combing through my music collection this week—the best research project ever—and I realized that sometimes the joy of a song is all about the sound of it and how that moves your mood. And though I am kind of artistically snobby about some things, I decided that those fun songs are awesome, too. So, while I wanted to find some genius lines in fun favorites like The Sound of Sunshine by Michael Franti or Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye, I took in their feeling just as well and found them brilliant.

But I love beautiful lyrics, so that is where I focused my search. I realized in the process that there are a few songwriters, like Adam Duritz, for whom I love just about every word that they write, making it hard to pull out individual lines or verses for fear of slighting the other words surrounding them.

One of those gems for me is Indigo Girls (I love them both, but Emily’s songs usually move me more than Amy’s). A few of my many favorites:

Each time you pulled down the driveway, I wasn’t sure when I would see you again.  Yours was a twisted, blind-sided highway, no matter which road you took then.  You set up your place in my thoughts, moved in and made my thinking crowded.  Now we’re out in the back with the barking dogs, my heart the red sun, your heart the moon clouded.  I could go crazy on a night like tonight, when Summer’s beginning to give up her fight, and every thought’s a possibility.  And voices are heard, but nothing is seen.  And why do you spend this time with me, maybe an equal mystery.  –Mystery

My friend Tanner, she says, “You know, me and Jesus we’re of the same heart.  The only thing that keeps us distant is that I keep f#*@in’ up!”   –Shame on You (to be sung at the top of my lungs with my sister)

I went to the doctors, I went to the mountain.  I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain.  There’s more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line.  The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.  –Closer to Fine

And the Mississippi’s mighty, but it starts in Minnesota, at a place where you could walk across with five steps down.  And I guess that’s how you started, like a pinprick to my heart, but at this point you rush right through me and I start to drown.  –Ghost

One of the other things I realized in my joyous search was that I love songs that set a scene and tell me a story. A famous example of this is Billy Joel’s Piano Man, which begins:

It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles in.  There’s an old man sittin’ next to me making love to his tonic and gin.  He says, “Son, can you play me a memory. I’m not really sure how it goes.  But it’s sad and it’s sweet, and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man’s clothes.” 

It just makes you want to hear the rest! This love of a story-song is what has always kept little-known Joshua Kadison on my list of all-time favorites. His “One-hit wonder” status comes from Jessie, which begins:

From a phone booth in Vegas, Jessie calls at five A.M., to tell me how she’s tired of all of them.  She says, “Baby, I‘ve been thinking about a trailer by the sea.  We could go to Mexico: you, the cat, and me.  We’ll drink tequila and look for seashells. Now, doesn’t that sound sweet?”  Oh, Jessie, you always do this every time I get back on my feet.

He has a lot of wonderful stories about old people, too, which I have always loved. These are some of his opening lines that draw me right in:

He tells her, “I want to paint you naked on a big brass bed, with bright orange poppies all around your head.”  And she says, “Crazy old man, I’m not young anymore.”  “That’s alright,” he whispers. “I’ve never painted before.”   Painted Desert Serenade 

A cigarette burns itself out in a crushed up Coca Cola can ashtray.  In front of a busted up old mirror, Delilah Blue is checking out his tired sachet.   –Delilah Blue

Tangled in the sheets of a motel bed, Samantha paints her toenails cherry red.  She asks me if she can paint mine, too.  And I say, “Samantha, anything for you.”  –Beau’s All Night Radio Love Line

Neffertiti came out West in a stolen limousine, twenty dollars to her name and a walk like you ain’t never seen.  She moved into Number 8 with just a bottle in her hand, an old radio wrapped up in its cord, and no particular plan.  I watched her in the hallway, she blew me a little kiss, and said, “Hey baby, what’s a boy like you doing in a place like this?”  –Jus’ Like Brigitte Bardot

Marc Cohn is another one on my short list, a brilliant songwriter whose one hit is another story-song, Walking in Memphis. My favorite verse:

Now, Muriel plays piano every Friday at the Hollywood.  And they brought me down to see her, and they asked me if I would do a little number.  And I sang with all my might.  She said, “Tell me are you a Christian, child?”  And I said, “Ma’am, I am tonight!”

 Beyond the storytelling, I am also drawn to songs with social and moral messages embedded in them. A few favorite lines:

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.  I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.  –John Lennon, Imagine

 Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.  None but ourselves can free our minds.  Have no fear for atomic energy, ‘cause none of them are going to stop the time.  How long must they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?  Some say it’s just a part of it: we’ve got to fulfill the book.  Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?  ‘Cause all I ever had: Redemption Songs.  Bob Marley, Redemption Song 

Come on, people now, smile on each other.  Everybody get together.  Try to love one another right now.   —Chet Powers (The Youngbloods), Get Together 

I’m starting with the man in the mirror.  I’m asking him to change his ways.  And no message could have been any clearer: if you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.   –Michael Jackson, Man In The Mirror 

And of course, as I mentioned, I am a sucker for love songs, from sappy to tragic and everything in between. I have already mentioned a handful, but here are some other lines that get inside of me:

If you find yourself lost out in this world, then I’ll find a way to get back to your side.  No mountain’s too high, no stone is too small.  I’ll build a bridge through the fire; for you I would crawl, from New York to California.  –Mat Kearney, New York to California 

Tonight our bed is cold.  I’m lost in the darkness of our love.  God have mercy on the man who doubts what he’s sure of.   –Bruce Springsteen, Brilliant Disguise 

Tell the repo man and the stars above: You’re the one I love.  –David Gray, The One I Love 

The time between meeting and finally leaving is sometimes called falling in love.  –Lisa Loeb, Falling In Love 

There are way too many love songs.  I think they’ve got it all wrong.  ‘Cause life is not the mountaintops; it’s the walking in between.  –Ben Rector, I Like You 

What do I do to make you want me?  What have I got to do to be heard?  What do I say when it’s all over, and “Sorry” seems to be the hardest word?  –Elton John/Bernie Taupin, Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word 

I’ll let you be in my dreams if I can be in yours.  –Bob Dylan, Talkin’ World War III Blues 

I wanna have friends that I can trust, that love me for the man I’ve become not the man that I was.  I want to have friends who will let me be all alone when being alone is all that I need.  –The Avett Brothers, The Perfect Space 

You got a fast car.  Is it fast enough so we can fly away?  We gotta make a decision: leave tonight or live and die this way.  –Tracy Chapman, Fast Car 

Together again, it would feel so good to be in your arms, where all my journeys end.  If you can make a promise, if it’s one that you can keep, I vow to come for you, if you wait for me.  –Tracy Chapman, The Promise (This was in my wedding.)

All you need is love.  –John Lennon, All You Need Is Love 

I could go on like this all day! There are a million more songs and verses I would love to share with you. I LOOOOOVE music!!! However, instead of giving you more lyrics, I will close with two quotes from my favorite movie about music, Almost Famous. The first is from Band-Aid (groupie) Sapphire: “They don’t even know what it is to be a fan. Y’know? To truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts.” And finally, from music critic Lester Bangs: “Music, you know, true music, not just rock ‘n’ roll—it chooses you. It lives in your car, or alone, listening to your headphones—you know, with the vast, scenic bridges and angelic choirs in your brain.” That’s how I feel, too.

How about you? What are the lyrics that have chosen you? Open up your journal and your music catalog. As you peruse your CDs or your iTunes account or whatever, what jumps out at you? Find favorites whose lyrics have climbed down into your soul and taken root. Do you have any artists that can basically do no wrong when it comes to songwriting, like my Adam Duritz or Indigo Girls? What is it about their words that attaches to you so organically? Do you find yourself more drawn to certain types of songs, or is it all over the board? What are your favorite story-songs? Feel-good songs? Songs with a social or moral message? What about love songs? Do you like the straightforward, sappiest love songs, or do you like the more subtle, not-so-obvious lyrics (for me, Anna Begins fits the latter category, whereas Marc Cohn’s True Companion, which I also love and was in my wedding, is the former)? How much do the lyrics matter to you, anyway? Are they just icing on the cake of a great sound, or are they an essential piece if that song is going to be one of your favorites? What are some of your favorites with weak lyrics? What about the reverse: which songs have amazing lyrics but not a great sound? Which ones have the best of both? How much do you love music? Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the songs of your soul?

Be swept away with Gratitude,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, please share it with someone who will appreciate it. I love sharing music!

A Quiet Dinner With Friends: My Fantasy Guest List

“If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.” –Steve Maraboli

Hello friend,

You know that old thought experiment where you come up with four or five people from history whom you would want to have over for a dinner party? Everyone seems to start with Jesus, and then it can go in a few different directions. Some people choose other respected people they are “supposed to” pick—Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, and the like—while other people add some evil to the mix with folks like Hitler or Charles Manson. Still others go with childhood heroes or sports legends like Neil Armstrong or Wilt Chamberlain.

In any case, it is usually a group of icons from other eras that end up gathered together around our hypothetical tables. In our attempt to gather the biggest names, this game usually involves little thought about how they would actually interact once they sat down. It is enough of a fantasy just to name the names. Thinking about it for a second, I would probably fill my guest list with Jesus, Buddha, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. I could go on and on, of course, as I love history and would be on the edge of my seat listening to folks like Frederick Douglas, Susan B. Anthony, Merriweather Lewis, Harriet Tubman, and Sitting Bull, to name just a few.

Honestly, I get a little giddy just thinking about how much knowledge and wisdom I could soak up in a deep conversation with each of these individuals. I would love that! But really, I don’t have a clue how it would shake out to gather a handful of them together for a few hours over a meal. Not having much of a sense of their personalities, I am left unable to visualize the feel of the discourse. I mostly just think about wanting to talk to each individually.

So, I am changing the game! I want this dinner to suit my personality. A bigger group would work against my introversion and my desire for a genuine connection amongst the whole group. I would appreciate the intimacy more if there were only a few guests instead of, say, five (actually, I would prefer individual dinners with each person, but that’s not as fun for our game here). Let’s go with three plus me. I also want a pretty good sense of their personalities and confidence that they have social skills, because I want us to all enjoy the conversation and have things in common, like sports, a global awareness, and a desire to improve our world. With that, I am limiting it to people who are alive today and who I think would enjoy each other’s company, including me.

Okay, so: a few living humans who would make for a fun and fascinating evening of conversation. NOW it sounds like my kind of a dinner party!

I am starting with tennis champion Roger Federer. This guy just seems like a cool dude to me! For all of his athletic magnificence—he is widely considered the greatest player ever in his sport—he has a very charming class and grace about him (he has won the ATP’s Sportsmanship Award a record twelve times!). You always hear about how kind and thoughtful he is to everyone he comes into contact with. He and I both love the game of tennis and would therefore have an easy connection. Of course, he also hangs out with other international sports legends, which would no doubt provide for some scintillating stories. Another connection: he is also a Dad of young kids. I very much admire the enormous amount of charity work he does, including the millions of dollars that go to help disadvantaged children in Africa gain access to education. He just seems to be doing it all right. And he is grateful.  Roger, you are invited!

Next to Roger can sit Barack Obama. After this guy’s experiences of the last decade, I can hardly think of a more fascinating guest at my table. The stories he must have… But that is not the only reason to invite him. He seems like a genuinely cool guy to me, and grateful for his many blessings. I once saw a talk show segment with his wife, Michelle, as the guest, and the host asked what the most annoying thing about him was. She did an impression of him doing a slow, pause-filled explanation to his daughter of every aspect of some issue. It was hilarious, but it also points to what I would like about talking with him. He’s a thinker, and he seems to grasp that social issues are enormously complicated and can’t be fit into the little sound bites that our TV and Internet news outlets give us. Like my journal entries, I prefer my conversations to be a deep dive, so I would enjoy combing the intricacies of the world’s concerns with him. He also loves sports and has daughters a bit older than mine, so he could warn me and Roger of things to come.

Frankly, I am tempted to leave my little table at just the three of us—me, Roger, and Barack–as I have a hard time with who might make a comfortable fit (should we all be roughly similar in age?). Ideally, I could think of someone both worldly and philanthropic from the arts. However, I have been almost totally out of popular culture since I had kids, so I feel like I don’t know the personalities very well (though George Clooney, I think, would make any conversation enjoyable, and I would be interested to learn more about Leonardo DiCaprio’s world travels to study climate change; or perhaps Oliver Stone).

Dan Rather! Yes, the face and voice I have known since I was a kid would fill that last seat between me and Obama wonderfully! Though we were a Tom Brokaw/NBC family when I was growing up, I knew of Dan Rather and his storied career as a journalist. He was at Kennedy’s assassination and in Vietnam as a reporter, and obviously at all of the major global events as the anchor at CBS for a million years. So, he understands the world and our history. He left my radar until recent months, when I have been faithfully reading his commentary regarding politics and the necessity of tough, fair-minded journalism in our society. He is an incredibly thoughtful man, and he also seems very grateful for the voice and the platform he has been blessed with. And he seems like a fun guy to talk to, with such a wide-ranging experience, including being the parent of a daughter and a son, like me. I would like him at our table for his wisdom, his stories, and his heart.

What would I bring to the table? I hope that while being another voice sharing tales of travel and parenting, opinions on sports and global issues, and a passion for improvement with my comrades, I would also greet each guy’s unique perspective with intense curiosity and acceptance, as well as enough important questions and observations to connect us all together. That is what the evening is all about, after all: making a connection. Building a bond of humanity and common growth across a range of life experience. Oh yeah, and FUN! I think we would co-create some of that, too. This sounds like an enormously satisfying dinner to me!

How about you? What type of characters are making your guest list? Open up your journal and think about the kind of interaction you want to have with, and between, your special guests. What are your priorities? Do you just want to put three other amazing people in the room and see what happens, or do you want to pick and choose your commonalities and engineer it in a certain direction? If you have a theme or themes in mind, what are they? Do you want each character to have similar qualities, or do you think big differences would make it more interesting? How much would you like them to share things in common with you versus in common with each other? Would you prefer it to be all one gender, like my guy’s night? Do you imagine you will hold your own in the conversation and have good things to add? Would you approach this mentally more as a fan or as an equal? Okay, now write the list. Who is on there? Write about each one individually. Why do they make the list? What do they hold in common with the rest of the group? What unique perspectives can they bring? Which one do you expect to feel the closest bond with? Will one of you emerge naturally as the leader of your group? How serious will your conversation be? How much laughing will you do? What will you all take from the evening? Inspiration? Kinship? Empathy? A lighter heart? A greater sense of responsibility? Lifelong friendships? Even more to think about? Simple gratitude? It’s fun to think about! I am smiling as I write. I hope you will be, too. Leave me a reply and let me know: Who is at your fantasy dinner table?  

Soar with the eagles,

William

P.S. If you enjoyed this exercise, please share it with friends. I wish you happiness!

100 Loves

“We don’t need to have just one favorite. We keep adding favorites. Our favorite book is always the book that speaks most directly to us at a particular stage in our lives. And our lives change. We have other favorites that give us what we most need at that particular time. But we never lose the old favorites. They’re always with us. We just sort of accumulate them.” –Alexander Lloyd

Hello friend,

Allow me to light up your day! Come along with me and play a game we will call “100 Loves”. The rules are simple. I will name a category, and all you have to do is quickly name ten of the things you love most in that category. There will be ten categories, so ten lists of ten. Hence, 100 Loves!

My one caveat/suggestion: Don’t try to get your list exactly right! In any of the categories, of course there will be many contenders to make your Top Ten. Don’t give in to the temptation to agonize over which ones get those last few spots and which get left off the list. Just write the first ten that come to you. [Secret from the game designer: no one is going to bust you for making your lists a bit longer. If longer feels better, go for it!] This is all about thinking of things that give you good memories, inspirations, warm fuzzies, giggles, and smiles. If you are feeling pressure to get your list right, you are playing the game wrong. And just because you are making a list from one to ten, this is not about dividing up your heart into exact amounts. As long as your answers make you feel good, anywhere on the list is wonderful. Don’t rank them! Got it? Good! Let’s play!!!

Category #1: Books

  1. Walden—by Henry David Thoreau (my all-time favorite piece of literature)
  2. Autobiography of a Yogi—Paramahansa Yogananda
  3. The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance—Robert Pirsig
  5. Into the Wild—Jon Krakauer
  6. The War of Art—Steven Pressfield
  7. The Catcher in the Rye—J.D. Salinger
  8. Conversations With God (series)—Neale Donald Walsch
  9. On the Road—Jack Kerouac
  10. The Kite Runner—Khaled Hosseini

Category #2: Foods

  1. Monster Cookies (the ones my wife makes are divine and so naughty!)
  2. Garlic Bread
  3. Root Beer Floats (A&W preferred)
  4. Giant Burritos from Chipotle (I like them all!)
  5. Caramel Rolls (the ones my Mom makes are the best!)
  6. Grilled Halibut
  7. Dr. Pepper (I am not really a soda drinker, but when I indulge, the Doctor is in!)
  8. Pizza (I am not picky, but a simple pepperoni is lovely.)
  9. Smoothies (the one that my kids call “Mango Pineapple Pink” is delightful!)
  10. Chocolate Malt (made by my daughter after school—heavenly!)

Category #3: Inspirational Figures

  1. Martin Luther King, Jr.—Live your purpose. “The time is always ripe to do right.”
  2. Mohandas Gandhi—“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” He was.
  3. Henry David Thoreau—Be unapologetically you. Don’t just exist; LIVE!
  4. Ellen DeGeneres—Be you, be kind, and be generous. Oh yeah, and be silly.
  5. Mastin Kipp—Follow your heart. Stick with your biggest dream.
  6. Barack Obama—With the audacity of hope and lots of work, anything is possible.
  7. Dalai Lama—Spread positivity to every corner of the world. Be happy!
  8. Jimmy Carter—Spotlight or not, do good for all of the days of your life.
  9. Van Jones—In the most contentious of times, reach out across that chasm to find that we are rather more alike than we are different. Lead with love.
  10. My daughter, India—A contented soul makes the best company. Kindness first.

Category #4: Music Videos

  1. “Beat It”—Michael Jackson. Love that fight/dance scene!
  2. “Centerfold”—J. Geils Band. Those first bars were unmistakable and sent whoever was manning the family room TV into hysterics, yelling, “Centerfold’s on! Centerfold’s on!” so that the rest of the house would come running.
  3. “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”—Cyndi Lauper. With Captain Lou Albano as her Dad, how could this not make the list? It really was fun!
  4. “Her Mercy”—Glen Hansard. One of the few from my adulthood. My spirit rises with it. So beautiful.
  5. “She’s A Beauty”—The Tubes. I can’t explain it; I just loved this from the start.
  6. “Parents Just Don’t Understand”—DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. There’s no need to argue.
  7. “Headphones”—Matt Nathanson. A documentary set to music. Makes me smile through my tears.
  8. “I Love Rock & Roll”—Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. This is everything about my childhood. The best anthem!
  9. “Brave”—Sara Bareilles. It is a masterpiece of inspiration and fun.
  10. “Thriller”—Michael Jackson. An absolute EVENT. Captivating!

Category #5: Actors

  1. Julianne Moore
  2. Don Cheadle
  3. Cate Blanchett
  4. Daniel Day-Lewis
  5. Emma Thompson
  6. Anthony Hopkins
  7. Kate Winslet
  8. George Clooney (man crush)
  9. Helena Bonham Carter
  10. Sean Penn

Category #6: Games

  1. Taboo—a highly amusing holiday tradition with my extended family!
  2. Ping Pong
  3. Mario Kart on Wii—I love this with my kids!
  4. Yahtzee—classic!
  5. Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo—my Mom bought one of the Classic Nintendo consoles at Christmas, and between my sister, brother-in-law, and my kids, that game was going continuously the entire holiday break. Ahh, nostalgia for the many hours wasted on that game in the old days….
  6. Foosball
  7. H-O-R-S-E (Basketball)
  8. Capture the Flag—My brother and I still get the kids going on this one at the lake every Summer. This was my backyard in the Summers of my youth. So much fun and so many memories!
  9. Rock Band on Wii—because, at one point or another, we all dreamed of being in a band, right?
  10. Scattergories—Great for a large group. Inevitably funny.

Category #7: People (Not immediate family to take the guilt out of it)

  1. Gabrielle
  2. Uncle Bob
  3. Aunt Caryl
  4. Ruby Red
  5. Karen a.k.a. lizzy
  6. Cousin Becca
  7. Aysun
  8. Phil
  9. Foley
  10. Uncle Lloyd

Category #8: Songs

  1. I Go To Work—Kool Moe Dee
  2. Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters—Elton John
  3. Rochester—Mat Kearney
  4. No One—Alicia Keys
  5. Shame On You—Indigo Girls
  6. Walking In Memphis—Marc Cohn
  7. Let’s Get It On—Marvin Gaye
  8. Mrs. Potter’s Lullabye—Counting Crows
  9. Stand By Me—Ben E. King
  10. Seasons of Love—The Cast of “Rent”

Category #9: Activities

  1. Sledding
  2. Rollerblading
  3. Surfing
  4. Building a snowman
  5. Playing catch
  6. Hiking
  7. Kayaking
  8. Swimming
  9. Yoga
  10. Slip-n-Slide

Category #10: Movies

  1. Dead Poets Society
  2. The Thin Red Line
  3. Stand By Me
  4. Cinema Paradiso
  5. Slumdog Millionaire
  6. Almost Famous
  7. Home for the Holidays
  8. Beautiful Girls
  9. Moulin Rouge
  10. Life is Beautiful

Whew! We made it to 100! That was just a ton of fun! When I was making it up and deciding on categories, it seemed like fun, but it was so much more than that. It was nostalgic. It was emotional. It was deeply gratifying. Truly, that is what I take away from it: an astounding Gratitude for all of the wonderful blessings in my life, past and present. I am grateful, smiling, and inspired. Hooray!

How about you? What’s on your list of 100 Loves? Which categories were the most enjoyable to list? Which ones were hardest to keep to only ten items (I had a tough time keeping my Movies list at ten and made an extra-long list for that one on my paper). Which categories were the most emotional for you? Which brought you the most smiles and laughs? Did you break out any music, movies, or YouTube while you wrote? Which list had your most favorite memories? Were there some lists that just didn’t do much for you? If we were to make a second 100 Loves, which categories should we add (I toyed with bands, writers, locations, movie lines, even apps)? Was this as fun for you as it was for me? I hope you are smiling, anyway. Thanks for playing along! Leave me a reply and let me know: What are your 100 Loves?

Savor Life,

William

P.S. If this made you smile, please share it. We could all use more of those!

Whatcha Watchin’?

dsc_0687“I think I’m always so much more happy with books and movies and stuff. I think I get more excited about well-done representations of life than life itself.” —Richard Linklater

Hello friend,

I’m sure most of you young people have gotten in on this new fad that people are calling the “Worldwide Web.” It also goes by the name “Internet.” It’s been out for a few years now, so even old guys like me are catching on. I have been sending the electronic mail and even printing out directions for my next roadtrip with a slick new program called Mapquest (you should try it; if you have a printer, that is). Anyway, the technology these days is way better than the old Commodore 64 and Apple IIe, so you might want to check into the upgrade if you haven’t. It’s all happening!

Well, I am about to let you in on a little secret about what I believe will be the next thing you will be hearing about around the old water cooler. Are you paying attention? Okay, here goes: you can now watch your favorite TV shows on your computer! I am serious. Movies, too! It’s the craziest thing you ever heard of, but I am telling you, it’s true. You just type in the name of the program you want to watch, and there it is! It’s like all of your favorite Beta or VHS tapes are right there inside your computer waiting for you to choose them. Like a jukebox! You can start watching on your computer, pause it, then turn on the same show on your telephone (if you have one of those mobile kinds) or electronic tablet, right where you left off. I know that sounds outlandish, but I am telling you, it will catch on! It is called “Netflix,” and it will be even bigger than “Simon” or the “FreeCell” some day. Some day…..

But seriously, I just discovered Netflix last week. Honest to God! Yes, I had heard of it before—and I have also heard the name “Hulu” and am now guessing that is probably magic, too—but never actually knew how it worked. The last I heard, they mailed you a DVD, and after you mailed it back, you could request another one. Wasn’t that Netflix? I could be thinking of something else. Anyway, I have now seen behind the curtain, and let me just say, IT IS AMAZING!!! You actually just type in a show and it’s right there! I know I sound like an idiot right now, but I’m not kidding: this thing has blown my mind away, almost as much as when the iPod came out (that thing still impresses me, by the way). Netflix!

Now I wish I had the time and priorities to be a TV and movie guy again. I used to be a huge movie fan and carved out the time to watch them. I had a few regular television shows, too, and otherwise whittled some mindless hours away channel-surfing. Those days are gone now, with the kids totally dominating the television at my house and my priorities having switched to writing blogs and books and such. I recorded (and loved) the series “Parenthood” until it ended a couple years ago, and haven’t made the time to find a show since. And movies are just too long for my tired and otherwise-engaged mind. As much as I love them, they make me feel antsy about “wasting” my time when I could otherwise be writing.

So, I am not really a watcher of anything anymore (and also, if you could not tell, not at all hip or aware of pop culture). And, as much as I think of myself as a book-lover, I haven’t exactly been blazing through those lately, either. If I am riding the machines at the gym, I read. Otherwise, it is at bedtime. And after a long day, that iPad usually smacks me in my dozing face after about a paragraph or two. Try again tomorrow.

But then came the election. After a night in front of the television and then the next day of trudging through the muck on Facebook, this old guy’s system decided it needed a little break from reality. I decided to take the rest of the week off of social media and perhaps seek out a few things that would take my mind to a different place. I quietly gave myself permission to read during the daytime and do whatever else was needed to decompress, including turning on the television (but NOT the news!).

Enter Netflix.

My wife had signed up a few weeks ago for the free trial month, and my kids quickly figured the whole thing out and have been watching all things animated. Being a little slow on the uptake myself, I was astounded when I realized how much stuff was on there, and that I could do it on my iPad. What a revelation!

Anyway, my point is not to impress you with my technological grandpa-ness, but rather to share a bit about what I have been watching and reading lately. Hopefully by comparing notes on, we can enrich each other’s lives (did I just say that about television?).

As for screen time, I have been a little bit all over the map (that Netflix is like a candy store, I tell you!). The first thing I watched (at full blast while giving myself a haircut) was “Good Will Hunting,” which I haven’t seen in ages but still adore. During a lunch break from writing, I watched the first two episodes of “The Office” for more giggly nostalgia. I even watched the first couple of scenes from “American Beauty,” which is another favorite that I haven’t seen since Bill Clinton was in office. Some day I will make the time for the rest.

Other than those old classics, though, I watched a few newer documentaries that I am here to recommend. My dear friend suggested I watch “Before the Flood,” about Leonardo DiCaprio’s world travels learning about climate change (and our impending doom). It was fascinating and seriously disturbing. I then searched for the one thing I had specifically wanted to watch when my wife said she was getting Netflix: Ava Duvernay’s “13th.” It is also deeply disturbing but so eye-opening. With all of the ignorance in our country about black-white relations and distrust of law enforcement, I think this film would help so many people gain some perspective and compassion. After watching, I recommended it to my friend who had put me onto “Before the Flood,” and lo and behold, she responded with another assignment for me. “Hate Rising” with newsman Jorge Ramos was–you guessed it–deeply disturbing. Important, but disturbing. I love a good documentary! (Oh, I am such a nerd.)

With all of those awful visions of melting icebergs, overcrowded prisons, and burning crosses, I probably could have used a few more episodes of “The Office.” Instead, I got my levity and inspiration from the books I have been reading of late.

Typically, I try to keep only one book going at a time—usually an autobiography–but I am spread pretty wide these days, so my mood can dictate what I grab at the moment. I just now finished Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please!, which I checked out only because I had seen quotes from her that appealed to me. I like her attitude and the style of the book (and now will probably look up “Parks and Recreation” on Netflix!).

In the meantime, my sweet sister recently gave me two books that have my attention. I am nearly done with Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass, which is a sassy, self-help manifesto that I find highly motivating (the only downside: I had to explain the word “badass” to my children, who quickly spotted it like hawks). The other one, which I have honestly only read a handful of pages in but seems promising, is Bob Goff’s Love Does. I like that title.

I am also now returning to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of The United States, which I took a little hiatus from because I was so slow with it. If you ever have an inclination to learn the real story of this country—not the one you learned in school—you must read this one. In a wonderful piece of synchronicity, even Matt Damon’s genius title character in “Good Will Hunting” recommends this book (Netflix does it again!). Oh, and I almost forgot! I am deep into the Harry Potter series—now in the fifth book—which I read every night with my daughter. It is a fun departure for me, something I wouldn’t pick out on my own. And I love to share my book love with my daughter, who now reads way more than I do (I am jealous!).

All of these titles of movies, television, and books have been a godsend of late, a way for me to take an emotional vacation, even if some of the topics have been scary and sad. Now, as I try to return to some normalcy with my schedule after a few days with my head in the clouds, it is my challenge to keep a small slice of vacation in my days, a little window to allow these books and shows to spirit me away. Just yesterday, I found myself reaching for my iPad while I brushed my teeth, hoping to catch a few more minutes of “The Office” and one more laugh for the day. I’m telling you, those Netflix folks are onto something! If they got me, they can get anyone. I guess I need to add a few more minutes to my day or a few more eyes in my head. (In my best Jerry-Seinfeld-gritting-his-teeth voice:) “NETFLIX!!!!”

How about you? What are you watching and reading? Open up your journal and think about the information and entertainment you consume. Are you more of a book person or a TV/movie person? Do you mix those pretty well, or are you pretty solidly in one camp? If you are all about the screen, are you more into TV series or movies? What do you watch on television? What shows do you want to watch? I hear people raving on social media about so many different shows that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. If the last good comedy I watched was when “The Office” was on, do you have any recommendations for me? Are there any good dramas that will make me cry every week like “Parenthood” did? What about movies? Are you more inclined to watch new ones or old ones that you have seen before? Does having access to them on your phone or tablet make you more likely to watch them but less likely to really concentrate on them? I ask that because I normally like to fully immerse myself in the cinematic experience and soak it all up—no distractions, sitting in the dark—or else not watch at all, but as soon as I discovered Netflix, there I was watching “Good Will Hunting” while I was cutting my hair.   I still enjoyed it, but the overall experience was of a lower quality. Do you find that is becoming more normal for you with all of this access? What movies would you recommend for a guy who kind of fell off the planet about eight years ago (and who is kind of snooty about movies)? How about books? On a scale of one to ten, how book-crazy are you? What have you been reading lately? Is this normal for you, are you trying a new genre? Is fiction or non-fiction more your thing? What recommendations do you have for me? I am open to anything! Whose memoir or biography would you most recommend? Which of these three—TV, movies, or books—do you spend the most time with? Which do you desperately wish you had more time for? Do you consider yourself a connoisseur of one of them? What purpose do these three serve for you—escapism, entertainment, education, inspiration, stress relief, or something else? What are the top three items on your wish list for your next open window of time? Leave me a reply and let me know, “Whatcha watchin’?”

Enjoy your life,

William

P.S. If you liked what you read and thought about today, feel free to share. Everyone loves a recommendation! Cheers!