Tag Archives: Barack Obama

The Inspiration List: What Motivates You To Be Better

“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello friend,

This week, I was fascinated to read about James Shaw Jr., the man who, during the “Waffle House Shooting” in Tennessee two weeks ago, wrestled the killer’s AR-15 assault rifle away and forced the shooter to flee, saving numerous lives in the process.

I admit that I purposefully avoided the entire Waffle House story when the tragedy first occurred. I felt like my system was just not ready to take on the emotional toll of another mass shooting. I saw the typical headlines on the television at the gym and in my Newsfeed–the young white male, the assault rifle, the victims–and figured that I knew the story all too well and could save on my mental health by avoiding this one and taking on next week’s shooting instead. It was all too depressing and too numbingly “normal.” I kept my distance. I wanted that sinking darkness to pass me by this once.

What finally drew me to learn the full story, however, was a piece on James Shaw Jr. and his humble generosity. I had seen Mr. Shaw’s picture after the shooting–a photo of his arm that had been grazed by a bullet in the attack–and knew that he had stopped the shooter, but what I learned this week is what truly captured me. You see, he not only saved all these lives, but he also then started a GoFundMe crowdsourcing page for the families of the victims who died in the shooting. His original goal was to raise $15,000. Well, word got out, and as of the last time I checked, he had raised an amazing $225,966.

When I read that story and researched the number on the GoFundMe page, all I could think was, “Now THAT is how to do it! THAT is a light that brightens us all! Bless you, sir!”

James Shaw Jr. is an inspiration to me. He has filled my heart with hope and made me want to be a better human.  

The whole situation of the awful-yet-familiar tragedy at the Waffle House and my accidental discovery of a new source of inspiration this week has caused me to pause and ponder about Inspiration itself and where I can find more of it in this world where conflict, corruption, and calamity that grab the headlines.

I am tired of being weighed down, tired of examples of our failings and our helplessness at the hands of the dark, cold world. I want to feel lifted. I want to feel awe and hope. I want to be reminded that I am magnificent and that I am part of something even more magnificent. I want to believe in a bigger, better me.

In short, I want to be inspired.

So today, I am making an Inspiration List. On my list will be anything and everything that makes me feel all those ways I just described. You know, inspired.

With that, here goes one beautiful brainstorm:

  • The sun, moon, and stars. Everything that goes on out there in space–and just thinking of the unfathomably large magnitude of the Universe–electrifies my spirit, but I am extra moved by those celestial bodies that are part of my daily consciousness. I love driving to the gym in the pre-dawn darkness and having my breath taken away at my first sight of the full moon, then watching the magical light show of sunrise on my way home. And nothing beats a night under the stars to remind me that I am part of something truly awesome. It is in these moments of looking past our Earth that I am most convinced that there is a God.
  • Jimmy Carter. This guy is building houses for the homeless in his 90s. Enough said.
  • My kids. Everything about parenthood is being my best and giving my best. When you realize that every moment of your life is an example for both how they ought to behave immediately and how they will remember you eventually, you better step up. My kids have raised the bar for me in every way imaginable.
  • Water.  In all its forms, water is a true wonder for me. The ocean all by itself is enough to leave me in amazement every time I lay eyes on it, or better yet, swim in it. The amount of life there, the power of it, the enormity. It boggles my mind in the best of ways and leaves me in a state of Peace I can find nowhere else. It is that Peace that I love best about water. Streams, lakes, even puddles. I am drawn there and revitalized upon my arrival. I have always been mesmerized the fact that the percentage of the Earth covered by water is almost the exact percentage of water that makes up the human heart and brain. That connection inspires me.
  • Libraries and bookstores. It is the artists who wrote the words and the sacrifices they made to get the books published. It is the knowledge and wisdom contained in those books. It is the words themselves. Being surrounded by books gives me the good goosebumps.
  • Protest marches and marchers. I have been deeply moved by the marches of this era–the Women’s March, the #RedForEd teachers marching for funding, the Science March, Black Lives Matter, etc.–in their attempts to create awareness and change. It lifts me up to see regular citizens rising to the challenges that their “leaders” have failed them in meeting.
  • Quotes.  People from all walks of life across human history have said and written the most beautiful words. I read them and rise.
  • Quantum Physics. I love how something seemingly way over our heads can deliver us the most simple and powerful Truth: We are ALL connected to ALL THAT IS.
  • The teachers where I work. I am in an elementary school five days a week, and every day I am impressed and humbled by the way the teachers (and aids) navigate the minefield of our children and guide them toward a better future. It is so hard to be good at that.
  • My Facebook friend Josie. I have never even met this woman, but even electronically she oozes optimism, kindness, and authenticity. She posts several uplifting memes every day–I steal most of them for my Journal of You page–and shares all kinds of personal stories and photos from her view of the world. She is my example of how to change the world with your being and your little actions. The image of her in my mind literally glows.
  • Glacier National Park. I can hardly think about this place without getting misty. It is my symbol for the natural beauty of this Earth and the gifts we earthlings have been granted in being born here. It is why we need to do better with what we have.
  • Leonardo da Vinci. This guy was absolutely amazing! Of course, genius is always amazing in its way, but I so admire the tremendous breadth of this man’s explorations of his talents. When you are known as “The Father of…” multiple scientific disciplines and one of the best painters of all time, you are awe-worthy in my book. When people wonder why I write about so many different things instead of finding a niche, I think of Leonardo.
  • The Parkland kids. I take so much encouragement from these young people whose friends were murdered while at school and then had the gumption to use their moment to push for a positive change, proving to us all that you are never too young to use your voice.
  • Barack and Michelle Obama. This is not political. This is about character in the face of antagonism, cruelty, and outright bigotry. When I think of the Obamas, the two words that come to my mind are Class and Grace. And I also think of Michelle saying, “When they go low, we go high.” I aspire to that.
  • The idea of a Divine Creator. I won’t try to tell you that I am certain that there is a God and that this God has a plan and created all of this beauty and magnificence for us to play in. However, I am attracted enough to those ideas to let it sway my soul into being inspired by it. As I have alluded to earlier, I am deeply moved by both the magnitude of the Universe itself and by the natural beauty and power of the “Nature” found on this planet, including the oceans, the mountains, the plants, and the animals (including us!). The idea that there was an intelligent Designer gives it all that much more Life and meaning.
  • Michelangelo’s The Pietá and David. When I first happened upon The Pietá in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, I was struck motionless by it. My eyes welled up. I was absolutely spellbound. By the time I saw the David in Florence, I had seen so many replicas and pictures of it that I wasn’t anticipating much. Still, I could not take my eyes off of it. Michelangelo is an artist perhaps without parallel in history, and these sculptures are just two reasons why. I am inspired by his genius.
  • The nonviolence and strength of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. These two great men top the list for me when it comes to heroes. Both fought unceasingly against injustice–both ultimately being murdered as a result–and yet both did so without the violence that their oppressors used and that so many around them called for.
  • Teaching. At various points in my life, I have stood in front of college kids to teach them Philosophy, elementary and middle school kids to teach them World Religions, and everyone from ages 3 to 93 to teach them Tennis. And every time, my heart has been filled by the teaching, the love of the subject matter, and my immense joy at helping to expand the world of my fellow beings. Teaching gives me life!
  • My cousin Heide. She died of cancer several years ago, a beloved teacher, wife, and mother of two little girls. Her death at such a young age–and how she left behind a life quite similar to mine–has served as a constant reminder to make the most of the time that I have, as more is not guaranteed.
  • The books of Steven Pressfield. He writes in more than one genre, but the two books of his that I tell myself that I should read every year are The War of Art and Turning Pro. As a writer, these books remind me to dig in and work at my craft, to sit down every day and put words onto paper, no matter how difficult the process or how awful the result, because the world needs my gifts. I need to hear that.
  • Music.  Whether live in concert, through the speakers filling up the house, or coming to me personally through my big headphones, there is nothing like music to fill up a soul. When the first notes come through to me–whether it is the dramatic organ and monologue of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” the tinkling keys of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” the unmistakable beat of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” or the dramatic violins of Beethoven’s 5th symphony–my spirit soars.
  • Dan Rather. Growing up, we were more of an NBC household, so my news came from Tom Brokaw. But this late chapter of Rather’s life, where I have come to know him as a passionate social commentator on Facebook and a brilliant writer and patriot in his new book What Unites Us, has brought me to a man who has done and seen just about everything in his lifetime and has come away more empathetic and grateful for the process. His thoughts give me necessary, humble reminders and also great hope. So does his life.
  • Publishing my work. I will never forget the feelings of exhilaration that came when I put my very first blog post out into the world on this site. It was my reach-out to you, and hitting that “Publish” button felt like exactly what I was meant to do. I still get a charge every time I hit that “Publish” button in the early hours of Sunday morning, releasing my heart out into the world in hopes it makes someone else’s life better. Publishing my book was that way, too, only with a lot more relief after the many painstaking hours that project required. The feeling of sharing my Truth in the service of making others’ journeys more rich and full is enough to propel me to do it again and better. After all of the ways we beat ourselves up in life, it is a priceless treasure to occasionally be our own inspiration.
  • Science.  I absolutely LOVE to learn new things and get a little closer to the truth of how this Universe operates, so Science is my friend. One of my favorite things is the Ted-Ed Facebook page–I highly recommend following it–where they regularly produce these amazing little 5-minute videos, usually with animation, teaching us all about our world. Recent topics: “What’s the difference between hibernation and sleep?,” “How do touchscreens work?,” “The evolution of teeth,” “What happens during a stroke?,” “Why can’t you divide by zero?” Learning this stuff excites me, but what excites me even more is that every day scientists are discovering new things about how our world works, how we can better operate in it, and how we might eventually have to save it. That lifts me up.

That’s my Inspiration List! My spirits are lifted just by writing it all down and thinking about these wonderful gifts. The list has become the final item on the list! It reminds me of Itzhak Stern in Schindler’s List when he says, “The list is an absolute good. The list is life.” It certainly feels that way for me.

How about you? What’s on your Inspiration List? Open up your journal and think about what lifts you up, excites you about life, and moves you to be a better person. Write down that list. What comes immediately to your mind? Who are the people on your list? Are they more people that you know–family and friends–or famous people? Are the famous ones from the present day or are they historical figures? Are your categories more general–like movies or music or books–or is your list full of specific songs, movies, and book titles? Which places are on your list? Are they places you have been or places you dream about going? Is there a spot on your list for spiritual practices? Are YOU on your list? How does it make you feel to make the list? Does your list inspire you? I hope so! What have I missed in my list–what do you recommend? Leave me a reply and let me know: What fills up your Inspiration List?

Do great things,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated with you, I would appreciate if you would share it on your social media. And if you are comfortable sharing your list, even better!

P.S.S. Dive deeper into your whole life–past, present, and future–with my book Journal of YOU: Uncovering the Beauty That Is Your Truth. Available at your favorite online retailer.

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!

A Peaceful Transfer of Power: Ruminations on the New Presidency

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” –Mark Twain

Hello friend,

It is Inauguration Weekend in Washington, DC. Amidst a wide array of celebrations and demonstrations, only one thing is certain: we have a new President. What comes next is anybody’s guess….

I think that the range of internal reactions to this event and this unique period in American history runs the gamut among our fellow citizens. We are emerging from the most unusual political campaign imaginable, but in some ways, we haven’t emerged much at all. Drama has continued unabated, on every conceivable topic. As with any drama, there are a million different ways to react to our current events, depending upon your personal history and the interests you have vested in the players on the stage.

I have seen jubilation, and I have seen devastation. I have seen relief, and I have seen dread. I have seen hope, and I have seen fear. I have seen smugness, and I have seen humility. I have seen eagerness, and I have seen panic. I have seen joy, and I have seen profound sadness. I have seen triumph, and I have seen abject loss.

Through all of those reactions I have witnessed while out in the world or inside my home–seeing them through the news or social media—I have sensed a unique undercurrent. It is almost indescribable. Maybe the best word I can come up with is UNCERTAINTY. It is not exactly in people’s words—and I mean people on all sides of the emotional and political spectrum–but in how they deliver them and how they are received. It is in people’s body language, in the structure of conversations and news reports.

There is a sense of wildness out there. The Wild, Wild West. There is the feeling that, even though it is not written anywhere, the old rules don’t seem to apply anymore. The term “post-truth world” has become popular in the press, and I think that is this feeling in the air. Like, “I think I will just say or do something untrue or illegal or outrageous, because something tells me I will get away with it now, though I never could before.” It just feels willy-nilly in the atmosphere to me, like we are at some strange portal in the Universe, and none of us knows if, when we take that next step, the regular laws of gravity and thermodynamics and such will still apply. It is as though a huge experiment is beginning, and some are starting with the attitude of “Let me see what I can get away with,” while others just want the rules to be posted, and still others are scared to death.

I know I am not explaining myself well here, but suffice it to say that I sense a really awkward vibe in the air. Uncertainty. As I said at the beginning, what comes next is anyone’s guess.

I, of course, have gone through my own process with the whole campaign, election, and the transition period, a process that is still evolving now as I write to you. 

I followed the Presidential campaigns with great interest from the very start (crazy that that was nearly two years ago!). I am very liberal but am fascinated by both major parties as well as a few minor ones, though I don’t belong to one. I assumed from the start that whomever the Republicans selected would win, especially as it seemed clear that an unpopular Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic contender. But when the Republicans made their selection, I thought the Democrats were back in it with a decent shot.

The end of the campaign and the election itself left me gutted. I am an optimist, and I have a perhaps-naïve faith in the goodness of people. Recent years have brought what seemed like so much social progress. After all of the ignorance, hate, and general smallness on display daily through the campaign, I did not want to believe that the millions of independent voters in this country could, in good conscience, step into the voting booth and, in effect, give an okay to those ideas and undo the momentum we had built toward open-mindedness and equal treatment. Of course, I was wrong, and painfully so.

I felt like I woke up to a different country after the election. It had nothing to do with which party won—I admittedly preferred the Democrat and Green Party candidates—but rather what the result said about what was inside so many more hearts than I wanted to believe.

After seeing the reactions on Facebook for a day or two and feeling worse, I stopped going on there for almost two months. It was too tempting to go down the road of defeatism and bitterness. I didn’t want to be swallowed up by that, because my world is too important to me, and I respect the gift of my own voice. I did not want to sully my spirit and be false to who I really am.

So, I laid low, retreated from the fray, and concentrated on other things. I peaked in on the news, of course, and followed things like Cabinet appointments and intelligence reports so that my head was not buried in the sand, but I allowed my heart some space to heal and prepare for this transfer of power and the uncertain years to come.

Where am I today? While I won’t pretend that I don’t still cringe at the Tweets, Cabinet hearings, and press conferences I see on my regular check of the news, and I won’t pretend I am not anxious about my loved ones’ sense of safety and belonging in my beloved country, I am doing my best to not let my energies be leached away from me in those directions.

Instead, I am focusing on how I can be a light and make a positive impact on my own little sphere of influence. I am not going to pretend I can just keep my eyes down and hope these four years pass as quickly as possible. I am not going to sit around and blame the President or the Congress for my lot in life and the way my community is (dis)connected. I am taking ownership for my share in it. I will speak up when I need to (which may be often). I will lend a hand when I can. I will be an example to those around me of the types of qualities I expect from them: compassion, decency, courage, kindness, open-mindedness, inclusivity, and hope.

That last one—hope—is so important to me now. As I said before, I am an optimist in my core. I believe in the goodness of people and the greatness of our future together. And I cannot help but look to the arc of human history and American history to bolster my belief. The greater story being told is one of progress. No, that progress is not always direct and steady—there is often a step back after a few hard-won steps forward—but the arc is no less clear. I have faith that, however this step we are now taking becomes defined by the history books, it will not stop the greater march of Progress. I am not willing to surrender that optimism simply because we have a new temp in the Oval Office. Onward and upward!

How about you? How are your heart and mind as we transition from one President to the next? Open up your journal and give yourself a little check-up. How has this election and transition treated you? How closely did you follow the seemingly endless campaign season? Did your favorite candidate become a nominee? Did your favorite nominee win? By the end of the campaign—not the election–how disgusted were you? What bothered you most? Was there anything you particularly liked about the campaign process? How about the election? What was your reaction to the results? How has that changed during the transition period leading up to Inauguration Day? Where are you with it now? Start with your heart. What are your emotions as the new administration gets under way? Now to your head. How are you expecting things to go in the next four years? How do you think this leadership will change your life, if at all? How have you decided to think and act in the process? Do you plan to get more involved in your community? Do you plan to speak up more about your beliefs or about injustice? Are you preparing to lead with Love? What can you do to best bring about the world that you wish to live in? Leave me a reply and let me know, “How are you processing our country’s changes?”

Choose Love,

William

P.S. If today’s letter resonated or helped you along, please share it. Let’s own who we are and rise from there. Blessings!

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!

My Next President

DSC_0181“In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.” –Napoléon Bonaparte

Hello friend,

“IS THIS THE BEST WE CAN DO???” That is what I keep asking myself as I watch the 2016 Presidential candidates begin to emerge and strut their stuff for the voters. One day it is Donald Trump spouting racist comments that cause the PGA tour to cut ties with him. The next day I see Hillary Clinton’s extremely low poll numbers when it comes to honesty and trustworthiness. Then there is the prospect of Scott Walker, and I think of how many people from Wisconsin I have met who are totally mortified that he is their governor. And, oh my goodness, might Joe Biden, the butt of so many jokes, really run for President? Who will the Republicans and Democrats trot out next: Jeffrey Dahmer or your crazy Aunt Cleo? I am again left scratching my head and wondering, “Is this the best that we can do?”

I know, I know, we are not supposed to talk about religion and politics in polite company, and I am certainly going to offend most people with this post today. But we aren’t talking here. We are just here to get you to think about what makes you tick. When you write about this in your journal, you are writing to yourself, for yourself. Of course you can talk about it with others, but you do that at your own risk. When you journal, you risk nothing. You only gain. You gain clarity and perspective, and you get to hash out potentially unpopular ideas without the prospect of losing friends as a result. It is your Truth, not someone else’s. So yes, go ahead and talk politics. I dare you! But first, hear me out. Maybe I can ruffle your feathers enough to stir up a passionate journal entry or two.

These candidates are killing me! They really are. As a guy who almost never follows current events but has an odd fascination with Presidential politics, I have found myself wondering if I could be more unimpressed by this group. But, you know, it is not really the fault of the candidates themselves. After all, they are just folks who are ambitious enough to want to be President of the United States. That is pretty darn admirable of them, actually. I guess it is the political parties and us—yes, you and I—who are to blame. How did we allow it to get to this point where it is so extremely difficult to uncover a couple of wonderful candidates for the highest office in the land? We should have made it clear to most of these folks long ago that they just weren’t what we are looking for when it comes to our global ambassador. We failed, and now here they are, lined up at our door (or at least our TV sets).

I guess there are some basic things I am looking for out of my next President—some minimum qualifications—regardless of political affiliation. These are the things I want the candidates of the major parties to have so that we can have a fair fight. Let’s start with charisma. We are talking about the leader of the free world here, so this person needs to have that certain something that draws people in. Captivate me! I also want to think my President is both intelligent and wise. I want the person to be able to not only understand the daily security briefing but also be able to make good decisions based on it. I want my President to be likable. Easily likable, so I don’t have to scour through the crabby surface or used-car-salesman surface or arrogant surface or patronizing surface to find some semblance of likable. I also want the main candidates to be on the younger end, frankly. Preferably 40s or 50s, not so much 70s. I know that sounds horribly ageist—and it is—but I am actually not saying it for me. I am really talking about what I think the two big parties would ideally put out there to appeal to the greatest number of voters. Personally, I don’t mind if the President is 65, but I think the candidates have more mass appeal when they enter around the age of the most recent Presidents (Clinton, W Bush, and Obama) rather than the Reagan/HW Bush ages. In this age of celebrity and social media, I really believe that we will see more candidacies that emerge as a wildfire-style movement—I think Obama’s first election will, in the long run, be seen as the first version of this—which is why youth, charisma, and even celebrity may play an increasingly large role in Presidential politics going forward (you think George Clooney couldn’t win an election right now?).   I also think you cannot be seen as an extremist (though both sides like to paint each other as extremist, hopefully you and I can see the truth).

These basic standards of appeal seem so simple, obvious, and easy-to-meet, but look at the candidates emerging. Who meets them? You can answer for yourself. Does Hillary Clinton have likability or age on her side? Does Donald Trump have anything but celebrity—and perhaps charisma—on his? Vice President Biden is in his 70s, which is tough. Bernie Sanders seems too extreme to the left to attract enough people, and I think anyone Tea Party-related has the same problem but from the right. Who remains? The Democrats seem to be out of appealing options, unless Elizabeth Warren could be convinced to join the race. As for the Republicans, maybe the likes of Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, or Jeb Bush fit the basic standards. I suppose even that answer somewhat depends upon your political leanings.

I definitely have my biases, too. I have told you in previous letters that I am very liberal. I have zero inclination to attach myself to any party, but I admit that the Republican candidates—especially the Tea Party folks—frighten me more than the Democratic candidates. I actually think that Clinton would do a fine job as President, but I also think that the likability factor doesn’t make her a good candidate when we go back to our basic list.

Maybe it is just not possible in this age to find a person that seems at least generally appealing to most people (political views aside). After all, I tend to think President Obama is charismatic, likable, and young enough to appeal to a broad audience. If you look at the levels of hate and vitriol sent in his direction, though, he is clearly not a universal favorite. Maybe W Bush was that way, too. By his second term, the very sound of his voice made my skin crawl—I was very against the wars—but maybe even his most level-headed supporters wondered by everyone didn’t think he was the coolest guy ever. It is quite possible that the low level of respect that we grant even our highest officers today—maybe I was shielded from it growing up in a Republican household in the Reagan/Bush years, but it felt like no one dared to disrespect the President in those days—makes it impossible for us to find some consensus on who would be a generally good leader (political views aside). Nothing is sacred in 2015, and no one is safe from the haters.

Still, I hold out hope that the 2016 election will offer us some candidates from both parties who meet the basic standards. I would love to arrive at Election Day and be excited about the final contenders. I have lived through the elections where neither player excited me—see Bush vs. Gore—or when I was petrified at what might happen if the President died while in office (“Hello, President Palin!”). I think I want what each party wants: to deliver a candidate and running mate who are charismatic, likable, smart, wise, and appealing to a wide range of people. And I really want to spend the months leading up to the election without shouting at CNN, “Is this the best we can do???”

How about you? What is your take on the possibilities for your next President? Open up your journal—the only safe place to talk politics—and make a Wish List. What are the minimum standards on your list? Are they similar to mine, or quite different? How well has your preferred party done at producing candidates that meet those minimum standards? How well do you think the other party has done? Are you ever embarrassed for either party? Do you like it when the other party nominates an obvious dud? Given that no matter who each party nominates, the election is bound to be a close one and could go either way: even though I feel like my side gains a slight edge if the other side’s candidate seems awful, it still always freaks me out that the awful candidate might very well win and I will be stuck with this person as my leader (a recurrence of my Sarah Palin nightmares). Do you think that is the case in this election, with Hillary Clinton as the presumptive nominee for the Democrats despite having some serious popularity and trust issues? Should the average Republican voter be loving this or terrified that, despite these issues, she might be the next President? How open-minded are you about which candidate you will ultimately vote for? Have you picked a favorite yet? Are you open to the idea of a female or Latino or Indian-American President? How much does gender, race, or religion play into your candidate preferences? How much difference do you think is really made by choosing a Republican rather than a Democrat for President, or vice versa? Do you always vote by party, or can a personal quality or an issue sway you? Do you know someone personally—maybe even you—who you think would be a good President? What is it about that person that makes you feel this way? Would you want the job? Why or why not? If you answered “NO” to the job, do you think this is why we have such a shortage of good candidates on both sides? What can we do about that? Leave me a reply and let me know, “Is this the best that we can do?” 

Demand the best,

William

When I Am Proud of America

DSC_0061 2“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” –Mark Twain

Hello friend,

Every time I popped onto Facebook last weekend, I was more and more encouraged and uplifted. I had heard the news on Friday of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all fifty states. It took the whole course of that day for the reality of that decision to sink in. It felt like just last year when I was amazed and heartened by my own state, Minnesota, voting for marriage equality, and I never dreamed that something like Friday’s decision would happen any time soon. I figured it would take a couple more generations of bigoted folks to die off before there was a chance at getting nationwide marriage equality laws in place. After all, through all of the centuries of this country’s existence—and even through the Civil Rights Era and beyond—the gay community had seemingly made very few strides in terms of gaining mainstream acceptance and justice. But then Friday came, and BAM!!!! Just like that, this movement that felt like it had only just begun creeping its way forward suddenly took a quantum leap toward equality. As the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision gradually sunk in that day, I became increasingly grateful and emotional about it. It just felt so good that so many people who had been so long denied this institution that I, and so many others like me, take for granted in our heterosexual privilege, would finally be granted access to the club (or rather, that the “club” no longer existed). I was suddenly a big fan of the Supreme Court. And then the Facebook profile pictures started changing to include the rainbow overlay in support of the gay community. When I saw the first one, I was like, “Oh, that’s a cool image! I never knew YOU were an ally and a supporter of marriage equality. I like you better now!” And then they just kept on coming, one rainbow flag after another, from all corners of my Facebook community. Each one lifted my spirits a little more. Pretty soon, I was like, “Go, America!!!” It was one of those rare and awesome moments when I have been both proud of my country (for the decision) and proud of my countrymen and women (for the support of equality). We got it right!

I have always felt very proud to be an American. Growing up in the Cold War Era, patriotism and hatred of the “Evil (Soviet) Empire” went hand-in-hand. I grew up believing that we were definitely on the right side of that battle. My family was also crazy about the Olympic Games, so when the undermanned USA hockey team beat the mighty Soviets and won the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, it was a defining moment in my childhood and probably the first clear memory I have of being proud of America. I guess that at that age, I likened the hockey team’s victory to a giant knockdown punch of Good over Evil. America, my country, was something to brag about in that moment.

I also believed the history books I learned from in elementary school. I blindly accepted the idea that we were the undisputed King of the World in all matters of commerce, ideas, and diplomacy. So I was a regular patriot, proud to live in the best country in the world. That wasn’t one event, though, but just a general pride. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the cold truth about the way we built this reputation and ascended to such heights (by taking the lands of indigenous people, killing those people, and building our industry on the backs of enslaved peoples, with little regard for the way we treated other countries and lands along the way). My childhood pride was of America the Concept.

So, what were the events that made me feel proud of America the Country? My country. Not just the concept of America—we all love the idea of Freedom and Opportunity and the like—or what an American person or persons (like a hockey team or a scientist) did, but what the country did. Or, more specifically, what the American government did.

When I look back to my childhood, beyond the Olympic Games of every four years, I remember being proud of my country for the space program and, particularly, the space shuttle missions. Remember how big of a deal those were when the shuttle was new? Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the launch on television. I was in awe of what they were doing, and the whole aura about it was cloaked in patriotism. America was, in my childish point-of-view, the only country in the world who did amazing things like this for the betterment of all humankind. We were the shepherd, and I loved being a part of that.

After childhood, I hate to admit that the moments of being proud of my government’s actions kind of dried up. With more of the veil lifted to my adult eyes regarding the reasons we really do what we do in the world—usually MONEY leading the way—it became more difficult to cheer for the good old USA in areas of diplomacy. No matter how hard the politicians tried to sell the many wars and “conflicts” we entered, I was disappointed in us for entering them. And I watched how we—as a people and in the three branches of government–were treating each other at home in terms of advancing our pillars of Liberty and Equality, and I was like the kid who grows up to see his hero wasn’t so heroic after all. I still loved and rooted for America the Concept, but the “We The People” America was seriously letting me down. As a sensitive idealist and optimist, I must admit that my feelings were being hurt the country that I loved so much.

I am happy to report, though, that the old Red, White, and Blue has begun to turn things around in my eyes in recent years. A story of redemption has begun to emerge out of all of the chapters of disappointment. It started with Presidential politics in recent elections. Yes, amidst that arena that is still basically a Gong Show to me and everyone else, my spirit has been lifted by the American people’s relative openness to candidates beyond just old, White guys. Whether or not I am a fan of theirs, I have been delighted to see the popularity of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton and their legitimate candidacies for our highest offices. The worm is turning, and I love that my six-year-old daughter has examples to look to in the biggest arenas of politics. I now believe that there will be legitimate female candidates on the ballot when it comes time for her to vote. Go, America!

The bigger source of pride for me in that arena, though, has been our—We the People’s—election of a Black man to the highest office in the land. Given where we have been in this country—and where we still are in a lot of ways—it was absolutely astonishing to me that we made that bold move as a country in 2008. Sure, I know that only half the country votes for the winner in these elections and that the other half often fiercely opposes, but the fact that we had a Black man right there in the arena (and that he actually won a majority of votes) speaks volumes about a collective shift that has begun to occur in the mind of America. Whether you agreed with his politics or not, I felt like America deserved a giant pat on the back on that election night in the name of racial progress. It was a big, big deal.

Then came last week and two Supreme Court decisions that really brought back some of that national pride from my youth. The first one confirmed the legality of the Affordable Care Act, which is our imperfect beginning to the journey toward assuring that all of our residents have access to health care. I know this issue is a polarizing one in our country—and, interestingly, also not on the radar at all for many people—but for me, it is an important one when it comes to national pride. With the rest of the world, at least conceptually, treating health care as the basic right that I think it should be, I have always been quite embarrassed that in America, health care was only for those who could pay for it. As someone who could not always do so, I remember the helplessness and desperation I felt when I was uninsured and mangled my thumb and wrecked my back. Though I know we are only at the beginning of this process, I am heartened by these first steps toward this basic decency. We can do it!

The other Supreme Court case, of course, was the same-sex marriage decision. In all ways, that just made me feel very good. Let LOVE rule, America!!! It struck me as a happy coincidence that it was the lead-in to Pride Weekend, an annual celebration of the LGBTQ community. My wife was marching in the Pride Parade through downtown, and my heart felt so full (and relieved) for the entire community and its allies. My country had finally done right by them. I was marching in my own Pride Parade. Pride in America. We the People.

How about you? What makes you feel proud of your country? Open up your journal and examine your relationship with your government and your people. Are you typically more proud of them or more disappointed? Think back to your childhood. When did you feel that national pride? Compare that to your adulthood. Did you become jaded like me and aware of our collective shortcomings? What moments or movements have made you feel proud to be one of us? Inevitably, discussions such as this one end up being politically driven. As the hyper-liberal that I am, I can think the legalization of same-sex marriage is one of our most proud moments, and the ultra-conservative next to me can write her article about this being one of our most shameful moments. Where do you fall on this topic? What about the others I mentioned: issues around gender, race, and economics/health care? What other issues move your needle in terms of national pride or disappointment? Are they mostly political issues, or are there others, like my Olympic fever or space shuttle awe? Leave me a reply and let me know: When are you proud of America?

Celebrate LIFE,

William