Tag Archives: Michael Jackson

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.

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!

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!

Olympic Fever: What makes The Games so addictive?

IMG_2888“We are all a part of God’s great big family. And the truth, you know, love is all we need. We are the world….” —Michael Jackson/Lionel Richie, “We Are The World”

Hello friend,

Last Friday evening, I had to pull the Dad Card on my six-year-old son, forcing him to watch the Opening Ceremonies of The Olympics in favor of the usual Disney Junior or Mario Kart. I put on my serious voice and explained to him how special The Games are and how much I loved watching them with my family when I was a kid. He wasn’t totally buying it, but he reluctantly agreed to give it a shot.

By noon the next day, that same kid was screaming at the television, “GO PO-LAND! GO PO-LAND!” as the Bicycle Road Race came to its dramatic conclusion (the Polish guy ended up with the bronze). And by six o’clock Sunday morning, as I was getting ready to sneak out to the gym so I could be back before the house woke up, he—who usually sleeps the latest of all of us—came bounding down the stairs and announced, “I want to watch The Olympics!”

What can I say? The kid has inherited the gene! He has a certified case of Olympic Fever!

It’s not just he and I, though. My wife has it. My daughter, too. It is rampant throughout the house. And, from what I hear, the rest of my extended family and friends have contracted it as well. It seems quite clear that Olympic Fever has hit epidemic proportions.

I watched a video on the Internet this week from the President and First Lady to the American Olympians. In it, they were talking about how Olympic-crazy their families were when they were growing up, how everything in the neighborhood would stop for those two weeks while everyone hunkered down in front of their televisions to be a part of the magic that is The Games.

But why? What is the magic? What is it about The Olympic Games that transforms the vast majority of us—sports fans and non-sports fans alike—into wild patriots who stay up way past our bedtimes every single night until they are finished? (Seriously, you know how, nine months after huge blizzards, lots of babies are born? Well, there has to be a two-week period of time nine months after each Olympics when absolutely zero babies are born!) What is the drug that is so addictive? What is the charm?

On first blush, the easy answer seems to be patriotism. After all, it is so much fun to chant “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” as the last seconds of a close win tick down. And who doesn’t take special pride in our amazing swimming and women’s gymnastics teams and those piles of gold medals they racked up? It just seems more fun when the national anthem being played is our own.

Another thing that draws us all in are the heart-touching personal stories of the athletes. These are people who have sacrificed so much for this one moment in time, some of them against all odds. The stories of their families—who have often given up more than the athlete herself—are spellbinding. Sometimes, I think I would rather watch the profile stories than the actual competitions.

But the competitions, too, expose part of the answer to our addiction to The Olympics, too. Quite simply, we appreciate excellence and achievement at the highest levels. Watching a Simone Biles Floor Exercise routine is about as jaw-dropping as a human physical feat gets. But really, awesomeness is everywhere you turn in Rio these days.

The competition itself, too, is a big appeal, especially for folks like me who like to watch a sporting battle any time of the year. A soccer game decided by penalty kicks, or the third game in a beach volleyball match, these are completely engrossing. With the big personalities in some of the sports, too, the individual showdowns are must-see events: Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte, stone-faced Michael Phelps vs. shadow-boxing Chad LeClos, Michael Phelps’ s iron will vs. Michael Phelps’s aging body. It is edge-of-your-seat stuff. Very compelling, very addicting.

All of these elements—patriotism, dramatic personal stories, physical excellence, and nail-biting competition—combine to make The Olympics required viewing in most homes across the land. You can decide for yourself which of them compels you the most.

However, after living in the middle of this Olympic vortex all week—and through every Olympiad for the last forty-plus years–and wondering about this magical, drug-like addiction that it engenders, I have come to believe that the true magic of The Games might not be any of those things at all. I think the root of Olympic Fever lies beneath all of that. It is about a feeling.

Think about that feeling you get in your heart during the Opening Ceremonies, specifically during the Parade of Nations. All of these human souls coming together under one roof with smiles on their faces. The audience erupts in generous applause for all of the athletes, all of the countries. The athletes come in a spirit of fairness and to give their very best effort to the cause. They stand together in the middle of the stadium, all dancing to the same music and being cheered, both in the stadium and in front of televisions all over the world simultaneously. There is a magnificent unity and generosity about the entire experience. Good will flows like a river. The world feels together and at peace for a beautiful, isolated moment. It is downright utopian.

This beautiful spirit continues through the Closing Ceremonies, which is typically an even bigger global party than the Opening Ceremonies. The athletes flow freely across country lines and revel with their competitors in a spirit of fellowship and a celebration of the wonder which they all just created together on fields and courts and hearts.

The entire Olympic experience is oozing with ideals that we all quietly long for. It is a kind of goodness. Unity. Positivity. Winning with excellence rather than by belittling the opponents. Fair play. Sportsmanship. Good will toward all humankind.

I think we cling to these ideals so desperately during these two weeks because, consciously or not, they are what we are always supposed to exemplify. It is how we are meant to live as humans. Our hearts and souls know it, even when our heads do not. The feeling in our hearts during those ceremonies and over the course of The Games is our still, small voice telling us, “This is how Life is supposed to be.”

You know that feeling you have inside when you are doing something you absolutely love to do? You are buzzing. Your heart is dancing. Your mind is calm and focused. You feel energetic, alive. Happy. Everything just feels right. That is how you know you are doing what you are supposed to be doing! I think that, collectively, we feel a lot like that during The Olympics. Maybe we should take notice of that. Maybe our hearts are telling us something very, very important.

Think about what a welcome escape the Olympics are from the negative news of the day in our country. Instead of violence in the streets, strained race relations, and acrimonious politics, we get uplifting stories of courage, teamwork, perseverance, love, and triumph. It is a blessed coincidence that the Summer Olympics happen to fall on an election year every single time. Seriously, how great is it hear the names Michael Phelps and Simone Biles instead of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for a change? Phelps, Biles, and all of their teammates represent something in our hearts and minds that can’t be touched by the politicians. No wonder we don’t want to watch anything else for two weeks!

It is up to us to bring the spirit of The Games back into “real life” rather than let that old negativity and animosity creep back in and become the norm a few weeks from now. Maybe we should make that the new Olympic Oath? That is one vow I am ready to take!

How about you? Are you willing to keep the best of the Olympic spirit in your heart and in your actions even when The Games are complete? Open up your journal and explore what The Olympics mean to you and why. Do you have Olympic Fever? What are your favorite events to watch? How much does patriotism play a part for you in your investment in The Games? Do you only cheer for your country’s athletes? Do you get wrapped up in the athlete profile stories? Who’s story is particularly compelling for you? How much of why you watch is simply to see great performances from the best of the best? How much of it is the competition itself and the rivalries? What do you think is the factor that takes The Olympics from being something that is fun to casually follow, to something that so many people are completely addicted to? Is there something to my idea that there is a spirit that permeates The Games that is completely unique and compelling? Is there something in some other aspect of our society that approximates the global good will generated by The Olympics? Does my thought that Olympic Fever is our soul calling us to keep that sense of unity and peace in our lives resonate with you, or does it seem like a load of New Age nonsense? Are you better for your Olympic experience? What is the best lesson from The Olympics, the part of it that you can take with you into the world and the years before the next Olympiad comes around? Will you do that? Leave me a reply and let me know: How will you carry your Olympic flame?

Find reasons to be bigger,

William

P.S. If you have Olympic Fever, or if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please pass it on. Our best qualities ought to be celebrated.

But What Can Little Old Me Do? A Question for Our Troubling Times

“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 then make a change.” –Michael Jackson, Man in the Mirror

DSC_0015Hello friend,

I have a Facebook friend, someone a year older than me from high school, who I knew just enough to know I liked him. It is plain from his posts that he has a tough life. He is saddled with debilitating mental illness and is in the darkest depths of depression much of the time. My image of his existence is one of extreme isolation: living alone, unable to work, and whose only interactions with the outside world come via Facebook.

Having lost nearly everything from his promising young life to his mental illness, you would expect his Facebook persona to be bitter, angry, hurtful, and pessimistic, right? Wrong! While he shares openly about the depth of his pain—which, frankly, sounds unbearable to me and thus makes me admire him even more—he mostly seems to be sharing educational, thought-provoking pieces, songs that make him feel better, and respectful political items (I admit to being partial to his liberal leanings, but the respect with which he delivers his points and his comments on other posts are my focus here). Much more than that, though, he comments so authentically and kindly to people who respond to what he shares. He has responded with great heart a few times to things I have shared. It felt genuine, and I always appreciated that. I appreciate it from anyone, but given that the cards Life has dealt him would seem to provide reason for him to be the guy spewing negativity and narrow-mindedness, I put even greater value on his kindness and generosity of spirit.

When I think of this guy, I think this: He makes as big of a positive impact as he can. You won’t catch him at a party or a community event. He is not going to be talking to people at the grocery store. It’s just not in him. His brain chemistry won’t allow it. But he has a computer. He has a Facebook account. And he uses it well. His sphere of influence is limited, but he maximizes it.

 That, to me, is helping our world climb toward the sun when the days are darkest.

I have another Facebook friend, someone I was much closer to when I was young than the first guy but whom I have mostly fallen out of contact with except for the occasional Facebook comment. The three of us—me, him, and the first guy–were all in different grades but from the same town, and they are also friends on Facebook. We share many ‘friends’ in common, so I am able to see their comments on other people’s posts, and they sometimes both comment on the same items. This second guy’s outward circumstances appear to be much different than the mentally ill hermit. The second one has a big job, wife, kids, lots of big social events, the whole deal. American dream type of stuff.

What do I notice on his Facebook comments and posts? He strikes me as the guy that the most fear-mongering of our politicians have connected with. Lots of anti-immigrant sentiment. Anger at the President. Snarky memes of opposing candidates. Global warming is a scam. On and on. Lots of negative. It’s true that there are family photos, concerts, and sports mixed in, but there is a pervasive feeling one gets going through his stuff. I see it in his comments on other people’s posts, too. People supporting liberal ideas or politicians draw angry retorts from him.

When I think of this second, seemingly more blessed guy—beyond my many fond memories of our old days together—I think this: He puts a lot of negativity out into the world. When it comes to public issues, he seems to share only what makes him mad and who he dislikes. He discourages discussion. He just seems bitter and angry at a lot of things. And he seems to have a broad sphere of influence. He has a big job and seems to be out in the community at lots of big events and gatherings. He must have the chance to reach a lot of people.

 Bummer!

In light of the recent tragedies and racial tension in our country, on my own Facebook page I have shared some educational articles about white privilege, dealing with racism, and understanding the Black Lives Matter movement. Some of the articles I post are pretty long—including these weekly letters to you (thank you if you are still with me!)—and I certainly don’t expect many people to even open them much less get through them. But one piece this week actually brought a brief convergence of the three of us old guys from the same high school.

Only five people total even gave the post a “Like,” but the first guy (the positive recluse) was one of them. I appreciated that, guessing (and hoping) that he took the time to read the very informative article. But then I got a comment from the second guy (the negative yet sociable one). To paraphrase: “Unfortunately, in today’s America, attempts at intelligent dialogue end in verbal and physical threats and being labeled as a ‘racist’ or ‘bigot.’ That shuts down the conversation and any potential connection. We will never have a mutual understanding without getting back together, and there is no chance of that happening with either Hillary or Trump.”

 Of course, I am not good at accepting a defeatist verdict as the last word on anything. And since I appreciated him reading the article and because it was something that I shared that drew the comment, I felt compelled to respond to my old friend:

“I feel you, buddy. I think the getting-on-the-same-page thing has to happen one person at a time. Looking for the President to change our dialogues is granting that office too much power and robs us of our agency in the matter. It is up to each of us to look into the mirror—consider your recent conversations with friends or colleagues, the Facebook or Twitter comments you make or posts you share, your interactions with people different from yourself—and decide to do better, be bigger. I think when we start with ourselves and work outward as far as our influence stretches, that is our best hope to make the kind of connection and progress you mentioned. It’s easy to be negative or disgusted or isolate yourself from others. The hard (but necessary) work comes in doing the opposite.”

I guess that mostly sums up how I think about solving the enormous issues we are all faced with right now, a scab that seemingly gets ripped off every week when another unarmed black man gets shot by police or another police officer gets shot in a centuries-growing revenge rage. I see a few professional athletes now standing up saying, “We can’t go on like this. We have to do something!” Many of the rest of us are saying some version of the same thing. Unfortunately, what usually follows goes something like, “Uhh………..but what do we do?”

 Sure, you can write your Senators, Representatives, Mayors, and City Council. You can absolutely use your voice at the ballot box. But, as I said in my response to my pessimistic friend, you must then own your own stuff. Each of us needs to take personal responsibility for what we put out into the world. Our words, our gestures, our social media comments and shares, our actions in the world.

We all have a sphere of influence. Not all of us are celebrities that can get meetings with the leaders of government and business. But each of us crosses paths with people every day. It may be in the grocery store, the chat room, or your living room. We all have access to others, usually far more than we realize. It is up to each of us to do something positive with that access. Teach. Learn. Encourage. Comfort. Be comforted. Empathize. Appreciate. Share. Carry. Unburden. Enlighten. Listen. Pray. Love. Connect.

You have the power to help the cause. Claim that power. Own it. Don’t give it away to “the government,” “American culture,” “the President,” “people,” or especially “them,” whoever they are. Giving it away is playing small. You are bigger than that. Act like it! Work your sphere every chance you get. Be a light to every person you touch. That’s what you can do!

Our world needs you and I to accept that responsibility. I choose to accept.

How about you? Do you choose to accept your share of the responsibility for building this bridge? Open up your journal and figure out how big of an impact you can make. I think the first step is to get an understanding of your sphere of influence. Who are the people you interact with every day—physically or virtually–even in the smallest ways? Family members, co-workers, neighbors, clerks, baristas, friends, Facebook community members, Twitter and Instagram followers, you name it. Who do you touch even occasionally or indirectly? Families of employees, friends of friends, recipients of your donations of time and/or money, members of your faith community, distant relatives, comment-readers from blogs or Facebook communities that you subscribe to, your political party, the police in your town, townsfolk who attend the same games and concerts that you do, others who share the same interest as you do (e.g., hikers, bikers, sports fans). Who else fits in your biggest sphere? Is it apparent to you that you have some influence over all of these people, even if indirectly? Do you only feel your inner sphere—family and close friends—and ignore the impact you have on the rest? I think it can be very easy to ignore our influence over those we don’t talk to directly about specific issues. How seriously do you take your responsibility to bring your very best self to those closest to you? I think that in our very closest relationships—e.g. spouses or best friends—because we give ourselves permission to put down our façade more, we sometimes devolve into bringing out our most negative, pessimistic side, emptying our frustrations from the world onto those we love the most. Do you see that in any of your relationships? Is there a more productive way? Social media gives every person’s voice a power and reach that was not fathomed in previous generations. What percentage of people, from your view, use their public voice for the benefit of humankind, and what percentage use it to spew more negative energy than positive? How about you? Speaking just in terms of your public image via social media and social interactions, do you think people perceive you more the way I perceive the first friend I spoke of, or more of the second? Obviously no one is entirely angelic or evil here, but you know what it is to get a vibe from someone’s posts. What kind of energy are you spreading? How can you make your overall message more positive and beneficial? Can you argue more respectfully? Post more about the good things in the world and in your life rather than all of the things you don’t like? Talk about ideas rather than people? Are you doing anything to broaden your sphere and diversify it? Are you working to understand people who don’t look like you and don’t live like you? Are you helping others to better understand your world? I think the two things we can all agree on is that making things better is not going to happen in one magic moment, and it is not going to be easy. That is why I think it takes each of us—including you and me—working intentionally and positively, one interaction at a time. Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you ready to step up and do your part?

Own your sphere,

William

P.S. If this got you wondering about your influence and how you use it, please share it with those who might find it useful. Though this is about individual choices, it works best as a movement. Together we rise!

The Soundtrack of My Life

DSC_0029“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” –Plato

Hello friend,

This morning at my gym class, the instructor’s super-techno dance mix included a mash-up of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ classic “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”. After getting over my initial disgust that they had butchered this all-time rock anthem with a computer-generated dance beat, I was instantly swept back in time to July 19, 1982. I was nine years old, and my parents—in a moment of highly questionable judgment—let me, my siblings, and my cousins go unsupervised to a rock concert at the North Dakota State Fair. It was none other than Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, and “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” had just blown up. I was mesmerized by the whole experience, but especially hearing her sing that song live. It was a night etched in my mind forever.

That is how it so often is with the signature moments in our lives: a song is attached. So, when we think back on our history, the telling of our lives emerges from our minds like a movie, complete with a soundtrack. The music playing while we hung out with our friends, stayed up late, kissed the girl, got dumped by the girl, won the game, rebelled, danced, roadtripped, celebrated, contemplated, got married, rocked the baby, and on and on. For most of us, the music tells the story for us. Play the soundtrack, and we could “set adrift on memory bliss.”

My life is no different. When I look through my piles of CDs or through my iPod, it is like my life is flashing in front of my eyes. So, in roughly chronological order, here is the Soundtrack of My Life:

  1. “Another One Bites The Dust”—Queen. This one starts the album, because I remember listening to the 45—yes, a record—of this in my room over and over with my brothers and neighbors. The other Queen anthems—“We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You”—absolutely belong on this playlist as well, but I will lump them into this one slot so I can sneak other songs in (IT IS SO HARD TO KEEP THIS ALBUM SHORT!!!)
  2. “Take It On The Run”—REO Speedwagon. This is another vinyl memory. I didn’t own it, but I remember staying up late at my (older) cousins’ cabin when I was a kid listening to this over and over, dancing around on the beds and feeling way older than my 8 years.
  3. “You May Be Right”—Billy Joel. This is my transition to 8-track. I could not get enough of the sound of that shattering glass followed immediately by the revved-up opening bars of this song to start the “Glass Houses” album. Instant adrenaline!
  4. “Greased Lightning”—Danny Zuko (John Travolta) & the T-Birds. I have seen “Grease” a thousand times and know all the songs, but this one sticks out so vividly because I remember my brothers and neighbor boys and I standing on our basement sofas performing this song—with all the dance moves, of course—like we were the T-Birds as we watched it repeatedly. (I wish that my parents had recorded more of our nonsense, because I would die to see this stuff now.) Go greased lightning!
  5. “Roll On”—Alabama. This was the signature roadtrip song for the crosscountry family misadventures (see my post “Roadtrip Down Memory Lane”), since my dear mother only ever brought one cassette for the entire trip. I didn’t know any better. Roll on!
  6. “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”—Joan Jett & The Blackhearts. Enough said.
  7. “Cum On Feel The Noize”—Quiet Riot. I have to include this not just because it is one of those quintessential 1980’s rock anthems that got played at every school dance—and still charges me up to hear it—but because of how it fits with my Joan Jett story. You see, at that first concert for 9-year-old me, the warm-up band for Joan Jett was a totally unknown band named Quiet Riot, and they blew us away with all of the material from the “Metal Health” album that would become popular a year or so later. At nine years old, I reached the peak of my interest in metal—ha!
  8. “Beat It”—Michael Jackson. I am such a child of the early days of MTV, and I could easily produce a 50-song soundtrack of songs that influenced me from those early years of the network (you don’t know how it pains me to leave off this list The J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold”, which threw our whole house into a frenzy every time it got played). Michael Jackson’s brilliance as a performer was perfect for the music video medium, and I was totally captivated. Much like some of the others on this list, “Beat It” is my representative for all of the amazing stuff that Michael put out in those early years, including “Thriller”. When I hear the song now, the dance-off video leaps onto the screen of my mind.
  9. “Mony Mony”—Billy Idol. I can’t even really claim to like this song, but when I think of high school dances, this song is the first thing that comes to my mind. It was like we all had permission to shout the F-word, and what more does a teenager want? So we shouted!
  10. “You’re The Inspiration”—Chicago. Roadtripping with my best friend to tennis tournaments, to Chicago (where we actually saw the band Chicago play), and across the American Rockies. The “Greatest Hits 1982-1989” album logged a lot of miles. Lots of sappy love songs—right up my alley.
  11. “U Can’t Touch This”—MC Hammer. I remember riding in a school bus with a high school girls’ tennis team with this song blaring, and each time it would come to the right parts, we would all shout, “STOP! HAMMER TIME!!!” Pure, unadulterated fun.
  12. “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You”—Michael Bolton. I am probably supposed to be embarrassed that I was a huge Bolton fan in my late high school-early college years. I remember when my mom first got this cassette before we left for a long roadtrip to a tennis tournament. By the time we returned, I was sold. This song made it on many a mix tape.
  13. “Summertime”—DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. This was the Summer song for 1991, the year I graduated high school. I hear this and think of my buddies. That was our time together, and we soaked it up. After all of these years, I would still lay down in traffic for those guys.
  14. “Walking In Memphis”—Marc Cohn. My favorite. I also found this song in the Summer of ’91, and I include it not so much from one memory at that time but for how deeply it moved me—and moves me to this day. Though he is widely considered a one-hit wonder for this song, Cohn sunk deep into my soul with this entire album, and he has remained foremost in my heart ever since. Like some of the others, this spot on my list really represents a lot of songs, including “True Companion”, which played in my wedding. I have sung Marc’s songs to soothe my crying kids on their tough nights, and to soothe myself in the best and worst times of my life. This song, which is about a spiritual experience for him, has become a spiritual experience for me.
  15. “I Go To Work”—Kool Moe Dee. This was my “pump-up song” to get ready for intramural basketball games in college. I love this whole album, but this song completely brings it. This is good rap. Old school like the old school!
  16. “Jessie”—Joshua Kadison. This song–and all of the others from his “Painted Desert Serenade” album–is so much about singing my lungs out on solo roadtrips across the land. I love Kadison’s storytelling, and despite a short career, he has always been on my short list of favorites. A wonderful memory is seeing him play live at the House of Blues in Los Angeles.
  17. Round Here”—Counting Crows. Their debut song “Mr. Jones” was so overplayed that I didn’t want to get the “August and Everything After” album, but someone dear to me insisted. This is the first song, and I was completely shaken by it. I bought it in Washington, DC September of 1994, and it played in my Discman the entire Autumn and Winter I spent there and New York City. It has played on every roadtrip since, and never fails to move me. I love this song, this album, this band.
  18. “Mystery”—Indigo Girls. Someone randomly gave me this CD, “Swamp Ophelia”, in L.A.; she didn’t know why she had it and didn’t want it. This is the epitome of “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.” I had never heard Indigo Girls before that, but they didn’t leave my CD player for months afterward. This song in particular captured my soul from the beginning, and it has become another roadtrip staple for me. This band is on my short list, and the song is amazing live.
  19. “The Promise”—Tracy Chapman. I walked down the aisle of my wedding to this song. Though she had put out a number of albums before “New Beginning”, this album is where I discovered Tracy on a camping trip to Montana. I played it nonstop, and this song always hit me right in the heart. It led to a huge collection of her music and eventually hearing the song live in concert while holding hands with my wife. A pretty cool relationship moment.
  20. “No One”—Alicia Keys. This one is for my daughter. When she was an infant and having a crying fit that could not be settled, this song always came to my rescue. I would put the iPod dock on REPEAT mode with “No One” and sway through the kitchen with her in my arms. It did the trick every time. I love the song anyway, but knowing that my little angel loved it, too, gave it an extra special place in my heart.

There you have it: the soundtrack of my life. As I said, I can think of dozens of songs that are deserving of a spot on the playlist, and it pains me to leave them off. But this list seems right for my journey.

How about your journey? What is on the playlist of your life? Get out your journal and your CDs/cassettes/albums/iPod. Let yourself be swept away. What images come up with the songs? Do you remember the good and the bad times equally? How many images are about love? Who do the songs make you miss the most? Which is your favorite? Do you have, like me, such clear images of the songs of childhood, but fewer standouts from more recent years? I hope you have as much fun dancing through your memories as I did in making my list. Leave me a reply and let me know: what’s on the soundtrack of your life?

Sing out loud & dance like nobody’s watching,

William