It Doesn’t Matter What You Are

Over the years there have been some phrases I’ve coined, not that any of them have actually caught on outside my circle, but profound and powerful nonetheless.

This one has been a part of me for quite some time. I use it to defend myself at times, and I use it to try and help others recognize the power they have over themselves to change.

“It doesn’t matter what you are, as long as YOU know what that is….”

The powerful part of this statement is what it connotes rather than what it actually says. Because, if you’re a mass murderer, knowing what you are does not justify what you do. In fact nothing is simply justified by what you do. We are justified because knowing what we are gives us the power to take the first step towards change.

changeI’ve had several friends who battled alcoholism. Those who overcame their addiction will tell you that the very first step was admitting they had a problem.

If you’re an alcoholic, a drug addict, a sex addict, a wife beater, a thief, a liar or an asshole of any sort, it’s okay. The important thing is that you recognize these faults within yourself and make a genuine effort to act on that knowledge and affect change.

Everybody has room for improvement. In fact what some people are is blind to knowing what they are; too arrogant and too selfish to think for a moment that they have anything to overcome.

Meanwhile, I don’t want to suggest that we are constantly down on ourselves for our habits and failings. That’s counter productive in itself. Rather, find joy in the fact that you have the power and insight to know what you are. Rejoice that you have the strength and courage to change who you are and better yourself, your character, your circumstances and your life for your own well being, and for the sake of others.

Me? I have a very low tolerance for people. I don’t like selfishness, arrogance or stupidity on any level. Knowing this about myself helps me to better deal with those things in people. I’m overly kind to others and often allow them to walk over me because I’m really trying to overcome my own failings; the desire to smack them upside the head. I often get myself into personal (and professional) situations where my failure to speak up causes things to get worse rather than better. So for me, it’s a delicate balance where I need to learn more patience and more tact.

I have two step sons. It has been a challenge for me to be the kind of father I feel I need to be for them while trying not to upset the balance of being a stand-in father. All kids need to have things pointed out to them at times and they need to be guided in knowing what they are; all in the spirit of change.

We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and we all need to strive to be better people. Maybe the next time some arrogant soul points out your failings you can look at them and say, “You know? I never realized that about myself, but I want to thank you for pointing it out.” That puts the power back in your hands to become a better person. And maybe they’ll recognize their own failings in that moment and put some time and attention to their own character.


Tornadoes and Hurricanes and Floods, Oh My!

From the bank, under the shade of big trees, I watched the sun come up over the lake, the mist rising off the water as fishermen made their way across the calm to find a rewarding spot of their own.

It was a stark contrast to the rural communities we had passed through on the trip here. One side of their streets boasting small town America and the other, ravaged by recent tornadoes, looked like the aftermath of Hiroshima.

There was a feeling of peace, a sense of hope sitting here, a renewed determination to change my stars. Becoming a successful writer has been my lifelong passion.

Most of my career has revolved around sales. I hate sales. I’m an excellent marketing person, persuasive writer and exceptional graphic artist. But every time I’ve tried to land marketing jobs employers continue to equate marketing to sales. My portfolio is full of successful web sites, logos and marketing materials and my pocket is empty trying to be a salesman.

When I came across the Barefoot Writers Club it changed my paradigm with an epiphany. Copywriting is my specialty and that’s what I do. I’m certainly not a sales person. It was time to adjust my focus and leave the office and daily routine behind for my copywriting career.

barefoot-hikingI am a humble man. I don’t have a passion for big houses and fancy cars. I was raised in a Country Club neighborhood by successful parents. Yet I am more at home wearing a backpack and sleeping in cabins.

I like to travel and I love the freedom to experience new things; mostly nature and natural wonders. I blog about my nature trips and have hiked a large portion of the Appalachian Trail. There’s something about being consumed by open spaces that ignites my soul.

But my deeper passion is to help other people, to go disaster zones where hurricanes and tornadoes, floods and famines have left a wake of people in need. And not in some foreign land, but right here at home in America.

My wife is a counselor, a life coach, and I’m training with her to be a part of that. Our Independence Day is being able to hop in the RV and go to places where we are needed, to travel across this great country and be a part of helping others to overcome their struggles, providing resources and services to get them back on their feet. We want to live campsite to campsite making new friends, helping others and spending extended periods close to family.

We both have a passion to be writers. We want to be able to reach out through our experiences into the lives of others and bring them hope and inspiration, both in our words and through our actions.

Our day of freedom will be when we can afford to do nothing but travel, making a great living writing, coaching and helping people to rebuild their lives.

This post is my entry to the Barefoot Writers Club monthly contest. No more than 500 words on what my Writer’s Independence Day would look like; What am I seeking independence from? What do I want to escape? What will my new life look like? — I think I nailed it.

Congested Area Ahead

congestedMost of my life I’ve lived in big cities. Quite a contrast when you consider my roots are in some of the smallest towns in America; one I recently had the opportunity to revisit.

As we left the resort area along the winding two lane road we passed a temporary road sign that read, “Congested Area Ahead”. I sort of chuckled at that point knowing that what I considered “congested” was not likely to be what we encountered at all. In fact we probably didn’t pass a hundred people on the road during our whole trip that day.

As we arrived in the small town my grandparents once lived in the sign read, “Crossville 500”. My wife asked, “Is that how many people live here?” The answer of course is yes, and no. I would venture to say that since that sign was posted, about half the people (or more) have left for greener pastures.

The town is called Crossville because it resides, quite literally, at the intersection of State Route 1 and 2. It is a very VERY small town.

We had gone to just poke around and afford my wife the opportunity to experience the culture I came from. It was a rather brief tour, one blinking light and if you blink, you’ll miss it. There is quite literally nothing there. We stopped long enough for her to take her photo next to the street sign where my grandparents once lived which bears the family name.

Before heading out of town we needed to get some gas. There’s only one stop in town to do that which is also the local convenience store. The closest Wal-Mart is twelve miles away; which isn’t so far in contrast. There is a small supermarket in town, but you won’t find much more than staples and very limited brands.

We pulled up to the gas pump (one of two) and there was no place to swipe your credit card. Just a regular old gas pump with three grades to choose from; just lift the handle and start pumping. My wife was quite impressed by this event.

“You don’t have to take the money in first? Isn’t anyone watching?” I handed her twenty dollars and a dime since I went a little bit over the twenty mark. She was again amazed when she walked the money in and nobody was anticipating her arrival. She had to call them out and tell them we got gas, handed them the money and walked out simply shocked they were so casual.

As we drove down to the ferry at the Ohio River, headed back to our resort in Kentucky, crossing the vast farmlands of Illinois, I commented that the traffic was exceptionally light. We hadn’t passed a car in five miles or more and there was only one ahead of us, maybe a mile or more down the road. Yeah, we could see that far ahead pretty easy.

What comes to mind over all is a conversation I had with a New York, NY, friend of mine who was working with me in Washington, D.C., some many years ago. He was remarking how, at the time, Southeast D.C. had become the murder capital of the nation. He didn’t understand why people would kill each other so easily at such an alarming rate.

In D.C., like most modern cities, people live on top of each other and honestly are not very kind or thoughtful to one another. Big cities seem to be brutal places.

When my New York friend made his comment I fired back with a simple realistic statement. I am reminded of that comment all these years later as I contemplate the contrast between our home in Orlando and our visit to Crossville. The reality seems to be coming home with more sincerity than it did when I first said it.

Put 2.4 million people onto a small piece of real estate, take away their jobs, their education and feed them on government assistance and it doesn’t matter what race or nationality they are; they will eventually start killing each other like rats in a cage.

More Americans now live in big cities than in rural areas. Logically, crime rates and murder statistics are higher in more populated areas. It’s all about the numbers. I’m sure a detailed study of these things might reveal some interesting revelations. But I don’t need a study to help me see that people are far different creatures by nature when they have more space to roam.

We are fortunate in America to have a lot of wide open spaces. It’s a shame we don’t put them to better use. We can live with more passion and compassion and stop the killing by avoiding the congested areas.

Road Trip!

There’s nothing like piling my family of four into a small cramped rental car and hitting the road for fourteen straight hours to reach a place of peace and relaxation.

Before we left I was somewhat dreading the experience; I just knew there would be at least one body to bury before we got back to the Serf Ranch. Amazingly enough, everyone survived.

We set out from Central Florida to a secret hideaway in the Kentucky mountains, Lake Barkley. Truly it is a wonderful place to get some much needed rest and relaxation.

Preparing my new wife and her kids for the trip was interesting in itself. There were a lot of questions they asked on the way. But as we got closer and closer to our destination, the simple answer that we were headed to the middle of nowhere became a stark reality.

I can’t step out the front door of my home without seeing a half dozen people and as soon as I pull out of our development into traffic, well, there’s a whole lot of traffic. As we made our way through Atlanta, another incredibly busy city, we eventually hit the mountains of northern Georgia. The scenery changed dramatically from concrete and cars to mountains, lakes and trees. It became more and more refreshing with every mile we rolled.

Traffic through the mountains up to Nashville, Tennessee, was almost unbearable. The roads really don’t support the amount of cars using them. Nashville was a scary ride as we changed lanes back and forth trying to follow our route north around the city. Not long after that, the volume of cars dropped off dramatically. That was the first relief on the trip.

Once we crossed over into Kentucky it was simply amazing to see all the wide open spaces; farmlands as far as the eye could see. Summer time is great there because we got to see miles of corn, beans and a little tobacco; no cotton though.

Probably the thing that was most striking to the family, other than the total lack of people and traffic jams was the culture. It’s hard to imagine what people do there since the closest neighbors are generally a mile apart in any direction. It would appear that being a farmer or a tractor mechanic was about the only way to make a living. Either that or being a preacher; I imagined there was one church for every farm house we saw on the way.

We spent five days mostly boating and relaxing around a secluded resort. The people there were almost all my relatives, and those that weren’t, well, they kinda seemed to be.

Everywhere you go people wave and say hi even if they don’t know you. They take time to talk to you like they have nothing better to do. The waiters and waitresses we met almost all pulled up a chair and opened a conversation with us and more surprisingly, they prayed with us.

It is our custom as a family to pray over every meal. We join hands and give thanks for our meal, for friends and family. We thank God for the blessings we have to enjoy time in such a remote, beautiful place and for the bounty in our lives to be able to afford the trip, the food and all the indulgences. Twice we had servers join our prayer circle and it seemed so natural to them; so warming to us.

Okay, so you started reading this post eager to hear how we did have to kill one of the kids on the way and came home all looking forward to going to our own corners and avoiding any new arguments. But that didn’t happen. What did happen is that we found a renewed spirit and a new zest for life. We found that we actually could survive using one bathroom, sleeping in the same room and eating every meal together.

There were some tough moments and it took a bit of patience and self control at times to live and let live. But in the end, it was a great reward to share time together and be in a place where we could hear our own thoughts.

Overall, it was a time of reflection for me. It was a time to gather my hopes and dreams once again and refocus myself on some simple facts.

While my father would likely tell me (again) that I need to get my life together, I realized that my life is very much together. That, and that just because I’ve reached an age where a lot of people are looking to retire, I know for me, retirement is about setting out on the mission God has placed before me; to enjoy life and do a job I love, trusting Him for success and prosperity and all the while finding strength and faith in Him to meet our needs every day.

Sadly enough, as much as I wanted to stay in that summer paradise around the lake (winters there are very VERY cold), we came back to the concrete jungle. But something inside of me changed. It isn’t as though I didn’t expect it to change. I was after all eager to show my wife where my roots were and to embrace that peaceful place once again. But I hadn’t expected it to be so much joy and so much reward. I really expected nothing more than a temporary escape.

So today I pen this entry knowing that there is a beautiful and peaceful place that lives right inside of me, in my heart and in my home. Yes, I would have liked to have stayed there to do my writing, enjoy more of the smiles and hospitality of the people and their culture. I went there to find peace, and it seems peace found me.