Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Out of the Pan

In the time recovering from my surgery, I have studied intensively the options that the internet has created to market and distribute content. As a tired contractor with resources squandered and a writer/musician with exciting projects underway, it is particularly fascinating.

The phrase describing a web reaching around the world is clearly accurate and there are those, regardless of quality, who have wrestled a reputation by mastering the ego to optimize their exposure and create success out of literally thin air. SEO, blogs, google and widgets are just a few of the keywords bantered about by entrepreneurs and gobbled by neophytes.

This world of web-based content disseminated into the ether has an open door from homes as humble as mine even more than from giant corporations who move too slowly being entrenched in old diets and over-weight with drones. A creative eye can see a lot farther from the same level and an adventurer dares to explore without even pausing to ask, "Why not?" Individuals with businesses that might have trouble attracting clients across the street can now have thousands from countries they never see.

The inspiring result of this education is that with barely a plan B, I am leaping forward to embrace the adventure with the same heart, hope and determination as I approached my healing. Unconventional wisdom dictates I have to try and there is no better time than now.

Having tried my best to follow the traditional route, it is thrilling to imagine what is possible when following a dream to do what I want to do first and foremost waking up to start my day. After so many years listening to reason and education, and reluctantly setting my pen aside to take a hammer to homes who would suffer my services for a fee, I want to know what happens when translated to a keyboard, these scribbles wander onto an electronic page.

Consistently, my research shows that content being equal, it hinges on a blog. Started three and a half years ago as an experiment to discipline myself and tame an errant curiosity, this blog closed the door on chat rooms and opened a flow of more productive thoughts both personal and generalized that seemed worth sharing.

The experts (fellow bloggers I "met" early who have since developed impressive businesses) focus on facebook as the next vital ingredient for a platform, an account I had already opened just a step behind my kids to know what their new neighborhood looked like. Twitter, LinkedIn and a few others were natural additions and suddenly I learn I am doing all the right things to move myself forward in this world.

Many other blogs I have noticed, however, reach a far wider audience by writing more generalized content in formats of lists, bullets and optimized keywords that often delivers a great message, but lacks the passion to stir my heart, some blatantly focused more on helping you make money than abundance of soul. They titillate with phrases that draw one in to purchase the DVD or book that reveals the ultimate secrets, the goal being an expanded email list as much as life lessons.

As part of my research, I have also learned that my writing seems too personal to some of you readers to presume I would welcome a retweet or "like" to your friends and their friends beyond. There is no denying that with "Zen & the Art of the Midlife Crisis" I have harbored pretentions of creating books and other lucrative contributions to the public that could support my life.

For a message to really get inside me, I need to feel it, to know the pain and comprehend the triumph. Hand in hand with a tragic flaw to self-sabotage, it seems I have a boundless optimism that might serve as encouragement for others to face another day. Not driven by ego, nor greed, I am willing to play the fool, sharing my own dark secrets in hopes these revelations might help others to grow more comfortable with theirs.

At the risk of search engine optimization, therefore, I write with a passion about what I know best, myself, trusting that I am not so different as each of you, and that in the telling of my story so honestly, you find pieces of yourselves.

I need your help. We all need each other. It would be my greatest honor, if you find these words inspiring, for you to pass my tales on, recommend this site, and all together, upward we shall go.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Father into the Man

Leaves are starting to change in Vermont, occasional splashes of color in an otherwise verdant landscape of green. The nights are cooler as Pleiades meteors streak under the full moon. Life cycles ever onwards year after year.

Even as summer heat bares down and plants strain for sips of water, with the change in the air and the mums in the market, the first signs of winter clutch panic in me that another year passes with not enough progress to justify its imminent end. On my way to say goodbye to my father, my son drives us with the cautious consciousness of his first road trip behind the wheel. Cycles of life in pace with the seasons, generations of torches push us onwards, lighting the way and stretching far beyond sight in the rearview mirror.

My father rallies physically this week after accepting full blindness and separate diagnoses of COPD and diabetes in the last. Two sisters urge him to linger, one tearfully treads water and two of us ask what more does he need to complete before he can let himself go be with Mother?

Knowing that our relationship is strained by my financial dependence on him, I go to visit in hope of clearing the air in case his worry for me might be holding him back. Despite his harsh claim last week that a visit would only cost him money (which it will), I come anyway to remind both of us that love is more important than anything.

When I was a child, this man who was alternately, but unpredictably aloof and pre-occupied or playful and present, provided above all else a sense of safety and security that the world as we know it would still be rolling along in the morning. The style and distance of vacations and the ratio of new clothes to home-sewn might change according to cycles of his business we only heard whispers about, but the basic concepts of comfort and happiness were always rock solid.

Translated through my mother, who could accept no misfortune in our world without a bright side, his love for his children was never in doubt, though he apparently--despite the wealth of his other talents--was incapable of expressing it himself. When I came to her crying that he had thrown the baseball too hard or whacked me upside the head in jest at the dinner table, it was only out of a love, she consoled, too big for words.

Unfortunately, his displeasure was all too apparent, exploding with frightening pitch if I happened to crumble under the weight of the heavy canvas tent on the way to the campsite or bend the nail on a simple project. Although he never voiced it, I constantly wondered how failing so miserably at these simple tasks expected of me, I could possibly live up to the ever so bright future they were predicting for me.

It has taken a lifetime to catch a glimpse of just how much I suffered the age-old pressure and regularly failed to please my father, even and especially to this day as it feels the time is running out.

Raised upon and having succeeded so well at the ethic of providing for his family and mastering his career, he reflects at the end of his life with a self-satisfied modesty on his laurels. He commanded his fate and leaves this world with pride, surrounded by his daughters who serve, admire and love him nearly as much as his adoring wife had done.

Relationships with our parents profoundly affect our whole lives, most obviously in the beginning, certainly now as we witness their passing, and I suspect much later as we reflect on our own. As much as we might want to be anything but them in our teenage years, most of us suffer an unconscious need based on survival that begins at birth to be loved by them. As the end nears to plead my case to my father, I look at my own son at the wheel beside me and try to speak to him in ways that might better reassure and support his quest for a safe trip and a happy life.

On this road to visit, we comfortably alternate between ear-plugged silence tuned into our different music and open conversations about dreams and passions. No danger of sitting too high on a pedestal for him to immitate, I offer him the reality of my mistakes, insecurities and stamina to pick up the pieces and move forward again. He knows I have felt serious pain, physically and emotionally, and struggled with frustration, lived humbly from self-sacrifice, and danced with ecstasy, hurt no one intentionally and love today with all my heart and no expectation.


My father lived a successful life, but only in these last precious years have I begun to see his more human side where he has lately grown man enough to display his fear, compassion and courage. The tough fa├žade has been laid aside and I can hold his hand with trust and confidence as I had never done as a little boy.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fire in the Heart

As much as people poked fun at the dire predictions of certain fundamentalists that a particular day last April would be the world's demise at the hand of God, there are those who ridicule even more the date in December 2012 that is the day on the Mayan Calendar interpreted by others as the true end of the world. In addition to blockbuster movies closing on the scene of a futuristic arc floating into the sunset, countless forecasts include disasters from aliens to meteors to a more earthly holocaust of nuclear proportions as the result of a spilled cup of coffee on a critical console causing a failure of the fail-safe system.

Like the fears of the Millennium that passed before us, some of us await this looming date with suspended disbelief, trying to live normally with an eye to higher ground just in case it actually did happen and there could still be some form of escape. Still others add the distinctive phrase, "...as we know it" to our vision of the Apocolypse, describing catastrophic events of revolution, financial collapse, and the invasion of Chinese culture onto the shores of our American dominance and control of the world market.

Beginning with the crisis in 2008, blamed on sub-prime mortgages that spread havoc around the globe, headlines actually support this theory. The Middle East is rampant with the uprisings of its weary citizens throwing off the chains of their many monarchs and dictators. Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, drought and torrential rainfalls are causing massive death and devastation. This week alone, heated analysis floods the airwaves over whether catastrophe has been avoided or merely delayed by the ridiculous compromise to pander once again to congressional self-interests by raising the ceiling of debt. And Harry Potter has divided, conquered and will not reappear in an eighth episode.

This latter hypothesis of a world not ended, but radically transformed, opens the door to a vision made famous in the Sixties and laid dormant for three decades after. Celebrated as the Age of Aquarius, there are a growing number of humans around the world who believe the Mayan Calendar portends the transition from a five thousand year cycle of life dominated by the masculine energy of intellect to one of heart nurtured by more feminine principles of love and intuition.

History shows that civilization has progressed from a belief that the world is flat to exploration of neighboring planets. Wondrous medical advances and architectural masterpieces are dwarfed by the progression from papyrus to the speed with which my thoughts can be conveyed to yours through a screen. The triple dimensions (3D) of innuendo in Shakespeare's greatest works have been reduced to mere sound bytes on a billboard. Even in war, sticks and stones are being replaced by unmanned drones, rendering killing nearly as harmless as the video games and nursery rhymes that have imitated it.

Except that the carnage is so very real to those on the ground; our junk drifts into space as carelessly as our unlimited growth here on earth has indisputably caused our climate to change in dangerous and unpredictable ways (when was the last time Lake Champlain was completely frozen over?), and the use of cell phones probably produces radiation that causes brain tumors.

Perhaps a little more heart would do us all some good.

As an experiment of a different menu to hold onto their readers who are otherwise vanishing into the ethernet, our local newspaper is brave enough to consider a monthly series of essays in contemplation of this vision of the world. Possibly the end is far less final than what we have feared; in fact is no end at all, but actually more glorious than we have even imagined, one with "...Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hands and everybody playing in the Heart of Gold Band" (Grateful Dead).

We do not even have to wait until 2012. Life as we know it can be transformed today into a world where we help each other, heal the pain that makes us hurt ourselves and others, awake each morning with our grumbles replaced by gratitude. John Lennon imagined peace. Communism was not evil for its vision of prosperity spread among the masses. The meek shall inherit their strength and the rich will claim abundance by their measure of happiness, not their bank accounts.

Fear shall be triumphed by love.

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