Batman Killed By Camry

Sad story on the Interweb today about the death of Batman. Leonard Robinson was a successful business man who, with no ulterior motive, spend a great deal of his cash impersonating Batman. He drove a Lamborghini, completely decked out in paraphernalia. He was pulled over by the cops in 2012, who must have obviously not understood that the Dark Knight was visiting kids parties and generally shedding joy throughout Gotham. I first read about him on Cracked.com. Lenny spent his money trying to make a small difference and would have remained in obscurity, just doing good things, if not for a viral video taken from a police dash-mounted camera.

Here’s the biography from Cracked:

Take Lenny B. Robinson, the Baltimore businessman who has poured more money than some of us make in a year into a full Batman costume and other gear to go entertain sick kids. He even bought a black Lamborghini and decked it out with bat symbols (though we suspect he would have done that anyway).

Via Washington Post
“In fact, doing that was the only reason I got rich in the first place.”

He spends about $25,000 a year on this little crusade, buying toys and gifts to give out to kids suffering from leukemia and equally awful diseases. Yes, he’s rich and he can do this kind of thing, but it’s still nice to see an example of a rich guy giving back when you hear so much about pro athletes and such blowing their fortunes on bullshit.

People like Leonard remind us that there are still people out there who care and share and give and love without any consideration of a financial windfall or of ending up on America’s Got Talent. I don’t know the full backstory and he may be as crazy as a bag of hammers but I doubt it. Good people make me want to be good people. And drive a Lamborghini.

I always wanted to be a superhero, many of us did. Life has a way of stripping our idealism and our special abilities and it’s very easy to forget that there was a time when we wanted to change the world. Here’s to you Batman. I always thought it would be a superhero who eventually figured out that you had no real superpowers but it was a Toyota. You were the hero we wanted, but not the one we deserved.

 

Change The World

“The true measurement of a person’s worth isn’t what they say they believe in, but what they do in defense of those beliefs,” he said. “If you’re not acting on your beliefs, then they probably aren’t real.”
Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State

Edward Snowden changed the world, and like most revolutionaries, the machine is trying to kill him. Believe what you want about Mr. Ed, his revelation was a game-changer. I’m on holidays (because we sometimes call it that in Canada) and right now I’m looking at the lake and watching Terminal F. This is a documentary about the events around the events of Snowden’s recent life. As far as documentaries go, it’s less biased than the mainstream, and less sympathetic than my virtual friends who live in the world of anonymity would appreciate. I study subjects like cultural engineering and the other side of the web and cybersecurity for the same reason I look at most things – everything is so incredibly interesting.

One day nerds will look back on 2013 and have conferences about how the world changed that spring. They will talk about the world of 9/11 and the cultural precursors to what went on; the decline of the nuclear family, the end of religion as a cultural force, the wars and the unrest and Anonymous and the growth and power of the virtual insurgency. After literally the entire history of humanity a fifteen-year-old kid from Nairobi suddenly has a voice and a forum and potentially a gun, if she learns how to use Bitcoin. And everytime she turns on her computer or texts a friend that information is recorded by people who may not have her best interests and freedoms at heart. What are you willing to give up to live in a safe world? Are you willing to give up your freedom? These are very important and complex questions.

No one knows how this is going to shake out, but several intelligent people are fairly adamant that Snowden may have just stopped 1984. It’s entirely possible that a 29-year-old computer geek singlehandedly changed the course of human history and stopped A Brave New World. It’s every cheesy youth dystopian movie you watched in 2014. Phrases like “surveillance state” started popping up on YouTube and on Frontline. The journalists who broke the story did not work for The National Enquirer, they worked at The Guardian, a real voice that wins Pulitzers.

Edward Snowden may just be the most valuable person in the world.

Snowden smells more like a brilliant Gavrilo Princip than a rich politician. He is normal, not beautiful, maybe even an idealist. Like Gavrilo he may have changed the course of human history forever, this time with a few SD cards instead of a gun or sword or bow. Many of us are convinced that there were some very disturbing things going on in cyberspace, and I’m not talking about buying cocaine at Silk Road. We are finding out that people were watching, developing programs and advertising and spyware and it was beginning to look like those conspiracy freaks weren’t as off as we all assumed they were. With Stephen Hawking now prophesying the invasion of our robot overlords, things just got freaking weird. Terminator weird.

Not everyone thinks Edward Snowden is a messiah, however. Many people who wear blue suits and red ties believe he has put us all at risk. It is a scary world, and anyone who has ever stumbled on the Deep Web can attest that there are evil and vindictive people out there, and many of them have a platform. The internet is a potential nightmare and someone needs to stand up for what has been right for so very long. You won’t be a raging liberal after someone rapes your wife in the name of some cause they joined online. Stop screwing around. Spooks in Washington and Ottawa and redneck politicians want this man dead because he has shown all their cards to the bad people and that is bad enough; but now the Proles are waking up. It’s all bizarre and apocalyptic and even the American government freely admits that Snowden’s documents were completely legit. Strange.

Edward Snowden was subcontracted to the NSA, arguably one of the most sophisticated surveillance and intelligence networks in the world. Such agencies have, probably by their own admission, arisen as a necessary evil to combat very dark forces that will, not in theory, hurt people you love for money or power or a radical cause. This does not seem debatable and has been going on since life was mould. One little nerd brought the surveillance state and many gigantic companies to their knees and changed the world forever, for good or evil, depending on which couch you are sitting in. If you are not up to speed on this issue you owe it to yourself to become educated. This is very important stuff.

This young man is now hiding in Russia, which plays beautifully into the political narrative wherein ES has put American interests at risk and he’s working for the enemy, on purpose or not. Regardless of who is right his name will be in history books, hundreds of years from now. How weird is it if you feel just a little bit jealous?

We all want to be significant and that is not a bad thing. In counseling we talk about this all the time, the systematic devastation and crushing anonymity of this culture and it’s toll on every one of us. Many spend their entire lives looking for something that sticks out, only to die with a yearning sense of almost. I will probably never have the opportunity to engage a planet and chances are you may not either. So now to find out what is left.

We are tempted to lie to ourselves and thereby diminish our hopes; with internal conversations about how unrealistic our champagne wishes were anyway. Every time I give up a dream or lose a little more hope for a meaningful life a little piece of my idealism dies.

I know so many bitter older people. I get that. Gone are the pretty parties and the unquenchable adrenaline. Welcome prostate exams and vaginal dryness. Watching your life slip away while still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up really sucks. How many times have you wished for another kick at the can because next time you would somehow know all the lessons it has taken us a lifetime to accumulate? The truth is you will not get another kick at any can and I don’t know about you but I do not want to look back at my life and realize I wasted my one chance.

Call it a rationalization if you want but it is important to realize that you do not have to make the cover of Rolling Stone to live a life that matters. You may never be in a history book but you could write your story any time you wish. While you may never be rich and famous, you could invest in a broken life and bring hope to dozens of people if you wanted to. We all choose to succumb to hopelessness, and if you decide you don’t want to be around that is entirely your choice. If you don’t want to step out on the ice quite yet it’s not too late to turn the ship around. Bitterness is a choice. Choosing to be critical of everyone who doesn’t ascribe to your very particular criteria is a choice. Pettiness and negativity and continually talking about your damn sore elbow that no one really cares about is a choice. Fixating on your problems for fifty years is entirely a choice. The desire to one day wake up with a smile and a new dream is also a choice. So is getting up one more time when you struggle to find meaning right now. So is saying no to our raging self-indulgence.

I’m looking around the table and it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to realize that people tend to end up in one of two camps; the old and beautiful and the old and bitchy. There are a million reasons to end up a smoldering hot pocket but at the end of the day no one is going to give a crap why you are still angry about that guy who ruined you fifty years ago. Please don’t think I am diminishing the incessant grind of stress and hurt and disappointment. What I am suggesting is that it is up to me how this plays out.

I will never be Edward Snowden because every one of us is dealt a different hand and mine doesn’t look like it’s going to end up with a Gucci watch. Ed may wind up in a prison cell, this world loves to crucify its prophets. I for one am grateful that he had the courage to do what was right, and the cojones to pull it off. Many people disagree with me and I for one am glad that you have the freedom to tell me off all you want. I have the freedom to not give a damn.

At the end of the day I desperately do not want to become a petty and whiny old man who spends his life complaining about how the kids of today aren’t like when I was a kid. Someone put me out of my misery first. Please. This life is screaming by, and we are all going to be dust before too long; so for the love of God don’t give up.

 

I Don’t Give A Crap

The Princess Bride is, unquestionably, one of my favourite movies. I own the novel. There is something about a magical story, with giants and accents and the Dread Pirate Roberts with which we resonate. A great story can take us to places in our imagination that playing Minecraft simply cannot. Reading matters. My clients have all had the lecture – you don’t read, you don’t grow as fast as you want to. It doesn’t matter how you get your fix, I listen to 90% of my books. What matters is that you are constantly exposing yourself to good ideas.

My wife thinks I actually like Facebook. The truth is, and I’ve written of this in the past, I really do “like” Facebook, in spite of hating Facebook because I want to be a hipster. I have unsubscribed to most of your updates and I really don’t care if you take a selfie on your next trip to Red Robin. My Reader looks nothing like it once did; it’s my daily source for archeology, psychology, philosophy and spirituality and religion and English comedy and Scottish history, Brain Pickings and Cracked and Mental Floss. Most of us on this journey are reading constantly, though some have not yet discovered the thrill of an old book. A surprising number of us start thinking about science, eventually. Some begin to dream about going back to school, though most eventually convince themselves that they are too old or too stupid or too pragmatic. As usual, I digress.

Some times in our lives define us.

My boys and I communicate primarily with media quips and movie quotes; it’s hard to explain if you don’t know what I mean. I was a single dad for the majority of my children’s lives. We had a foosball table, not a dining table. Black couches. As the boys got older, quotes from The Simpsons and Family Guy found their way into many conversations. We began to communicate in prose. We tried to talk like The Boondock Saints and memorized classic children’s literature and Die Hard. People were lost in conversations when the Williams boys were around. Quotes from Descartes and Homer, Simpson. Samurai Pizza Cats and Recess and Roger Miller singing, “Robin Hood and Little John running through the forest”. My guys know history and philosophy, psychology and how to ignite methane. It was the worst time of my life. It was the best time of my life.

I would not wish a life of single-parenting on you, but cannot begin to describe how much I have learned, through it all. My kids are, if I think objectively, way better than your kids. I mean nothing by this, they’re simply amazing young men. We still talk in Simpson’s quotes and share a closeness for which I am daily thankful. We all know that we are so tight because of the tears, not in spite of.

I listen to many speakers in the course of a month or a year. I have my favourites, most of whom are dead. Great speeches, like great comedy, is usually born out of pain. When discussing a preacher or poet or prose-master I am prone to comment, “he hasn’t suffered yet”. There are lessons you can learn only from the dark side. Being a single parent for all the wrong reasons was easily the most difficult and transformational time of my life. There was before The Event and there was after, and this is definitely after. I find it difficult to listen to those who have never bled.

If I’ve learned anything, doing this for a living, it’s that most people suffer far more than they let on. Many have experienced hardship on a level we could never have imagined. People who have been broken have wisdom that others simply don’t have. Some of us have issues as well, to be perfectly honest. Becoming bitter is the easiest thing in the world, north of 40. Many describe themselves as “realists” because they like pink clouds and unicorns. Truth be told, the older I get the easier it becomes to wear my damage like a badge of honour. Being happy becomes something that I have to work on. You may not have noticed but there are some nasty folks out there. Some of us live and love very negative kin. A few of us are a tad more sarcastic than we really need to be.

Most of my readers know I love my old man. If you broke your leg he would convince you that having a cast was the best thing ever! Women feel the love, my dad totally has game. He thinks your zit is charming. You’re beautiful just the way you are, have that bagel. His nickname is Happy Howie. He inspires me to not give up on idealism, on choosing to be happy in spite of all the crap. His life has been anything but easy. Growing up as an orphan, living as an adult while still in middle school, no one handed him anything. Ever. If you visit the Home Hardware in Invermere just stop and listen for his whistle. Everything is wonderful, wonderful.

There are people in my life that cannot seem to stop complaining. Life is difficult for them. I no longer wish to live in that world. Sure Isis may attack or that damn government needs to smarten up, but frankly I am learning not to care quite as much anymore. The research is in and it all points to giving less of a fart about the daily junk that I won’t remember in a week anyway. Most of us spend the majority of our lives stressing about toothpaste and taxes and hoping we won’t die alone. So boring. I no longer care if my neighbour likes my lawn, it’s all crabgrass anyway. I don’t give a f5620a2a175f04d1f254d9ff542541e8tinker’s damn about so many things that used to drive my mania, though I still have a long way to go. I have been challenged to practice this mindfulness exercise, caring less. I need to figure out how to lower my expectations of life.

As my dad always says, “If it doesn’t affect my pension or my grandchildren, I don’t give a crap.” He’s no idiot, my old man.

 

Irregardless

…is not really a word. If you look it up on Wikipedia someone spits at you as you read the definition. Regardless, or irregardless, it is a powerful idea. Most of us like to live our lives responding to our world. It is tempting to drink the koolaid and let your dysfunctional world dictate the directions for dying of bitterness. Other people make us mad. It’s their fault I am this way.

“In spite of” is a very powerful saying. In spite of chronic pain, in spite of horrific abuse, in spite of a lack of parenting, or too much cocaine, or a mother-in-law from hell. In spite of all that, you did it anyway. Irregardless of the cost (I have no idea how to use this word in a sentence). Many have overcome immense trials and have strangled out a life in spite of. I am firmly convinced that we need to celebrate this, to brag about this so much more. There is nothing unhealthy in taking a few minutes to acknowledge the truth that you accomplished something which took an immense effort. Many have experienced moments when they prayed for death, or more likely for the death of someone else. You made it – survived. You are hereby given permission to crow. Brilliant.

It’s interesting, if you think about things in the same weird ways I do (god forbid), how often my in spite of has actually turned out to be my because of. Most of us have realized by now that it is exactly those experiences that we would not wish on our worst enemy which have defined and taught us. There have been situations in my life which have forced truth upon me precisely because of the misfortune, or the pain, or the lack of, or whatever. It is one of the truths of humanity that we are often defined by the hurt, not the happy. Adversity has burned in lessons about fairness and hardship and attitude that sitting by the ocean never will. I have come to the end of my rope and realized that I am still alive. You probably have as well. I had to be much broken before some lessons started to sink in. My capacity for self-delusion is epic and should be a marketable skill. At every point in my life I believed I was more self-aware than my friends. At every point I was unquestionably wrong. None of us realizes the depth of our own self-deception for a long time, often a lifetime.

Irregardless of the scars we choose to make our own lives. In spite of abuse, or neglect, even those other things that shall not be named, some people find hope. For some of you there is a freedom that only comes with completely losing your shit. You know how bad it can get, and that lesson I cannot teach you. Some wisdom is not for sale, it must be earned.

I am not sure, as I write this, that we can learn to be thankful for some of the tragedy in our journey. Most of us have a few demons that we will not learn to like, no matter how many Margaritas we consume. Some things become a part of our story, even if it isn’t a good part. What I am learning is that sometimes, eventually, a few of the nightmares lose their teeth and we can begin to see how we have become stronger… irregardless.

Other People Have It Worse

“and to keep me humble there was given to me a thorn in the flesh”   The Bible

I’m no prophet, I think we can all agree on that. I’m not even convinced that I was “given” anything, it’s just that the verse works well with where we are headed. That’s all. No one is claiming to be Tom Cruise here.

For many of us, myself included, there are one or two things that have a tendency to hold us back from having a full life. I have a buggered knee that constantly reminds me that I am not allowed to run anymore. Or do martial arts anymore. I do it anyway and I pay. Frustrating, but really only a nuisance if I keep my head around it. Many, many people have it worse, we tell ourselves.

That particular coping mechanism, “many have it worse”, is a two-edged sword, actually. It is certainly accurate, in the logistical sense of the verbiage, many indeed have it worse. Stop complaining about little things. Appreciate what you have. Do it anyways. All those cheesy statements that we all use to get things done and keep moving forward. There is value in remembering the blessings, as they are dubbed. This is a very important psychological tool.

Occasionally, those coping mechanisms which have worked for so long have, in truth, exacted their own little emotional revenge. This is one of those statements. Humility and appreciation are foundational to good mental health. The problem is, and you probably know where I am headed, this statement can also be a reminder of how pathetic I have become. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. What I tell myself is that my particular problem is petty. It is not important, really, and I need to ignore it because I am being selfish. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

It is easy to diminish our own issues. We convince ourselves that to take time away from the many people who count on us, in order to work on our own issues or grieve or pray or cry or sleep, is selfish. Self care is selfish, although we don’t say it like that. We are too busy, too stressed, too involved and around too many whiny problems to really have time or emotional energy to go for a walk in the woods. Who has energy to walk?

In psychology we call this a cognitive distortion. Many who read this blog have come across this phrase before. Learning about cognitive distortions is probably one of the most important things you can do when seeking to become a real person. We are surrounded and obsessed with our distorted ways of thinking about life. This is not an occasional detour, every one of us uses cognitive distortions literally every day. Catastrophizing, All or Nothing Thinking, Emotional Reasoning, Should Statements, Over Generalizing, Filtering, Fairness, Blaming, the list goes on. I do this stuff all the time.

Here’s another one, a more personalized one: Other people have it worse. This may, in point of fact, be technically true, but it only tells part of the story. Contemporary journalism often does this, pulling out the letter of the law but completely missing the spirit, the story, the truth. Knowing other people have worse problems doesn’t always help me emotionally manage my grief and pain. I need to come to grips with the enormity of the issue, not diminish my own mental health issues.

This stuff is important – for me – and that is not selfishness, quite the contrary. No one knows what I am going through but me. No one understands my part of the picture. No one knows how I am really handling this life, no one but me. I must realize that there is no merit in blaming my relatives, that eventually becomes a cognitive distortion and keeps me from being honest with myself. There is no value in bitterness; I am the one eventually consumed. Damning my ex to hell may feel good for a moment, but it can affect my emotional wellbeing for a lifetime. That kind of stuff affects my grandchildren, it becomes generational. While we may be obviously linked genetically to those who came before us, their attitudes and cornucopia of craziness can be passed down as well. I simply cannot allow that to happen, if I am able.

So I have learned from people smarter than me that “other people have it worse” doesn’t always help because I am not other people. I am condemned or blessed with this one life and at the end of the day I’m not really responsible for your stuff. I need to figure out how to heal my stuff and hopefully some of that will bubble over into your life, and yours to mine. The dog didn’t eat my paper and I wasn’t holding it for a friend – this is my life and it doesn’t matter if other people have it worse.

Weird, it still feels arrogant writing that. They have programmed us very deep.

Here’s To You

It happened last night. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does, it takes my breath away. Those invasive thoughts.

Lying in bed they rolled over me like a wave. One thought led to another and then I was consumed. I couldn’t stop myself from “going there”, couldn’t keep the steaming pile of shit from pouring in and taking down. It went on forever.

At the end of it, and literally the end, I got out of bed and went into the kitchen. Then it was over. Moving, changing, going into the light was enough to break that pattern of thoughts, thank God. It doesn’t always work but last night it did, and I’m thankful.

It only happens to me a few times a year. I have clients and friends who deal with this rush of hell every day. I cannot imagine the strength it would take to get up each day and do it all over again. I’m not that strong. Some of these people are. They have learned to cope. You know who you are and my hat is off to you. I’m humbled by your courage.

The tools work. They’ve been tested by fire and I can tell you first hand that there are people who are more familiar with some of the toolbox and are having a measure of success. I have seen some of my clients and friends come through things that I could have never survived. In this office I have learned that I simply cannot stay in that emotional hell or it is going to take me out. Wise sages have written words that have helped me, and probably you as well. I’ve listened to victims and I’ve listened to survivors, and I learn from the survivors. Just the way it is.

So on that ‘night of nights’, and in times when I deal with other, less intense, dysfunctions; I continue to work the program. The Wisdom Rock, the brain massage, recognizing cognitive distortions, practicing STOPP Therapy, WWSD, faith, mindfulness, taking my argument breaks to breathe and breathe and breathe until I calm down. My mantras, the crap detector, the stuff I learned from Family Systems Therapy and motivational interviewing, the self-talk, the distraction techniques, dozens and dozens of cheesy tricks that keep me from losing my mind. Like most of us I forget more than I remember, often not recognizing the danger signs until finally the wisdom of retrospect magically kicks in.

I don’t really have a “Plan B” that doesn’t involve self-medication.

Timing

There is a great deal of philosophy in psychology. I don’t profess to be an expert at either but it feels like I am finally starting to wake up. I have come to believe that some changes are about timing, about distance, about learning. I watch clients go through this process all the time; and hopefully some of this yummy goodness has rubbed off on me along the way. I don’t do this job for the money, just ask my wife.

I get paid to be a full-time student of life. I can research to my heart’s content, as long as some of my paperwork is done. I watch the drama, the comedies and the tragedies, unfold before my eyes. Some of you know what I am talking about. I absolutely love my job. Back to our story. I have been learning recently about the events in our lives that change us. Books have been written about what I call “the event”. I have an article 80% done by that very name; I just can’t seem to end the story. Now it will probably end up being called “The Event (Redux)”. Briefly put, there are some events which are so catastrophic in their ramifications that they rip the fabric of our lives forever. These “events” have a permanent effect on our lives, our hearts, and our attitudes. They are game-changers. More later.

Our part of the story has to do with timing. As someone says somewhere, “timing is everything”. I was speaking with a friend lately about this very thing. We talked about our “events” and the ways in which life has turned out differently then we imagined. Not everyone has one, I’m sure. This isn’t something you would need to feel regret over. It’s not like a tattoo of your 14-year-old girlfriend. Some people’s lives probably go by quite swimmingly, I simply do not know too many of these. I think I know a few. This is a good thing. “Events” are rarely, in my experience, good things. I know a few people who know a few people who won the lottery, but I never will. I guess that could be a game-changer I would like to embrace. Won’t happen in the real world though.

I’ve written about this briefly in the past. I don’t want to talk about ‘the event’ right now. I want to talk about another ‘mini-event’. One day things started to change. It took years and rivers of tears and pain and pain and pain. We aren’t fooling around here. People who know what it feels like to be clinically insane. People who actually believed suicide was the best option. Lives that have been broken. You know, the big stuff. Let’s move on. Things began to change. Since that time I have come to understand that the journey back into some light was more about accumulation than about one-time events. The road back was way, way longer for most of us than we believed we could bear. It seems impossible not to be profoundly affected by the knockout punches. I often hear people say, “There are lessons I’ve learned in this process that I would never have learned otherwise. Still, it wasn’t worth it.” That seems like a reasonable assessment to me.

I have known many people who have chosen to define their lives in terms of ‘the event’. This is not the time for speaking about the potential for dysfunction here, let’s look at this from a different lens. There are those people who see these events as such deal-breakers that a very real part of them died or was altered on that day. Life is before the incident (BI) and after the incident (AI). There would be a me that thought his life was one thing (BI), only to find out it became something altogether different (AI). If you don’t think people can change… you’ll see (AI). Don’t get me wrong, not all people change for the better. These things scar you, is all (AI).

As Santayana reminds us, don’t forget the things you learned there. It may not have been worth it, but that doesn’t mean it cannot transform your life. Busy people forget to read psychology, or counseling stuff, or philosophy. We get so profoundly caught up in our crazy lives that we tend to repeat cycles without learning anything of profundity while we were in the Freak Show. Some of us remember promises that we made ourselves when we were broken; promises we made to God or our spouse or our future. I get paid to remind you of that crap. I personally recommend to my clients that they take a few months every year, for the rest of their lives, and come back for a visit for a month or three. I may get paid to research, but most of us don’t. I mean that in the most empathetic terms I can conjure. Life is nuts here too. I talk about this stuff every day and I forget. A few months a year to keep things on track cannot be a bad idea. Just think about it.

I want to dedicate this article to a bunch of you I work with who inspire me not to give up. Your capacity to triumph in suffering humbles me. I have no idea if I could endure what you are going through, I only know my story. Timing is everything. One day you’ll walk in the room and I, or someone like me, will look at you and ask if anything has changed. You look marginally better. There will probably not be any “ah ha!” moment wherein you suddenly realize your problem and phone Joel Osteen. I truly hope there is, but I never had one. Somehow, in spite of the agony, you were able to build just enough momentum, get the right meds, start eating differently and get off the couch. And it really sucks, but I couldn’t fake myself healthy.

I told someone this week, “This may not be bullet-proof but it seems like, for many people, you just have to ride that ‘wave from hell’ for a while before it starts to cool down”. I could be wrong, I often am, but shooting from the hip I would say that I have not been able to do much for many of my clients for a seriously long time… at first. Either I’m really bad at this or something is trending. Maybe a little of both. In my little office I could feel heart-broken if I thought too often about how long it really takes for qualitative and quantitative change to happen in a life. We don’t talk to clients about this very much but sometimes my job is more about the process than the results on a weekly basis. A few of you have spent years in counseling and groups before there was significant change, and then it wasn’t all good change either. Sometimes I feel like an emotional air freshener until some of the intensity wears down. There goes my buzz…

I have some friends I’d like to introduce some day, even though they are all so very shy. They are mostly women, with a few males scattered in the mix, who could tell you their story. A few have done so already on this site. They make my job super cool. I first met some of them many years ago and they are warriors, every one of these crazy, courageous people. Some have significant mental health issues, huge personal stuff, and usually a lot of grief somewhere. There were so many issues we basically threw darts and waded in. You think I helped you, but you did 99% of the work and I had a great time hanging out with you and getting paid. These friends are the reason I can write so confidently – I watch people who overcame insurmountable odds and refused to quit and somehow, after a very long time, there was a bit of hope. And let me tell you, in the beginning – they would be the last people in the world to tell you they could do have survived and moved on… I might have just had an “ah ha” moment.

You rock.
I have a very cool job.

check out this related article – The Speedo

Innocence

howbigisyourbraveI like doing groups. Usually, at the beginning, I dread losing another night of my week for something that resembles work. I wonder why I volunteered again. Here we go… again.

But something happens after a few weeks. People begin to open up. The group starts to jelly. Friendships are born and confidences given. One by one the participants let us into their pain, their dysfunction, and their beauty. I begin to count the weeks differently – now I’m counting down the days until the group is over. I’m not sure what will happen, this time. What if we decide it shouldn’t end?

One of the groups I created, that I do from time to time, it called “Welcome to Normie Land”. I hold it at the Addictions Centre where I spend some of my week, usually for a room full of people who are living in transitional housing, trying to swim their way back to what they once lost. They are good people, wounded people. I walk well with this part of the population, having spent most of my adult life working with the poor, the oppressed, the addicted. The lowly. They are my people now, for better or worse. But back to the story…

She had been coming to groups where I work for over a year, a long time to be in transition. She had a hungry mind and loved to talk about neurochemistry, among other things. I loved hanging out with her.

In one part particular group, while we were talking about relationships, she began talking about her new romantic interest. With eyes twinkling she sheepishly admitted that she was struggling with dating ‘clean and sober’. She was embarrassed. Without her “buffer” she had depended on for so many years to deaden the emotions she was suddenly shy, emotional, even “girly” around one particular cute guy at church. She went on and on about how mortified she had been after letting her emotions get the best of her whenever he was around. She told the group that she felt like a loser. As she continued speaking I couldn’t help it, I blurted out, “That’s so amazing. That’s absolutely wonderful!”

What I had realized, what nearly everyone in the room except for this person knew, was how amazingly alive she sounded. She was falling in love, living in a storybook, most likely for the first time in her life. What years of abuse and pain had taken, time had begun to restore. A return to innocence.

That’s what can happen, if you want it bad enough and the stars manage to align. One of the greatest perks in my job is the front row seat I get when people discover who they really are. Every once in a while someone wakes up, having hurt enough and striven enough, won and lost and gotten up again. After what seems like years and years, change comes to those who don’t quit. Actually, those who have probably quit a hundred times and still are in the fight. Over a matter of weeks I watch things radically change, from the way you dress to what you now believe. You have done what you said you would never do, you have moved on. It was impossible those many days ago, unimaginable. You laughed when I suggested that things could be different. I remember but it’s ok, everyone seems to in the beginning.

And that’s the good news at the end of the fairy tale, or is it at the beginning? I was always a firm believer that good things happened to other people. Then I grew up a little. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get better, but I did. Much slower than I thought, but it did. People who are reborn know that when your parts go back together again they fit differently, somehow. You are changed and you know it. Happiness means something different now than it once did. You have finally said goodbye to your emotional youth, though not without a fight.

But it’s not really a fairytale, is it? I hope. Normal people who don’t look good under florescent lights can relate to this story. Even the almost happy ending. Don’t give up, it always seems impossible at the beginning. Even if that beginning is the sixtieth beginning. And while we’re talking about it I give you permission to let go of some of the shame and guilt. Seriously, haven’t you done enough penance? Sure you screwed it up, welcome to the real world. I keep screwing it up and I get paid to know this stuff. Time after time clients complain that they constantly fail. They have broken self-esteem. Some people even stop coming to see me because they are so embarrassed that they screwed up again. Please, don’t think like that. It doesn’t matter if you fell down again. Don’t listen to the critics, especially if you are one of them. When people come to me and sheepishly confess that they are abysmal losers all I ask is, “So what lessons have you learned?”. No guilt, no shaming. I might be an idiot but even I know that you have beaten yourself up enough.

I learned that I was usually more vulnerable that I wanted to admit. I realized that my issue was a lot stronger than I wanted to believe and I needed to respect my opponent. I finally learned that each and every one of my failures taught me something about myself that I needed to know. And one day, that last day, I walked away. I don’t why it was that time but I must have been ready. And many, many of us can testify that they finally healed.

Spring Is In The Air

“Change is needed, change is good”. Vaughn

Time to change it up a bit. I took a different job this week, one which a family member termed a “demotion”, but by choice.

I was tired of my life. Tired of sitting still all day. Tired of the grind, the relentless wheel of need that has no end. I knew I was getting this way months ago, but I didn’t do anything about it. I could have. I was going to. This week.

I quit my major part-time job. Well actually not really. Another position came up, outreach, and someone asked me to apply. Thank you someone. You know how it is, you don’t realize how badly you were doing until you look back. I realize now that I was coasting, coasting while doing a few other amazing things. But even those other amazing things couldn’t compete with the grind.

So here I sit in a new office, in a trailer, at a local First Nation Office. The people are amazing and the office is awesome. Tomorrow I hang out with teens at a unique high school for those who can’t handle the norm. Wednesday I will gratefully sit back in my counseling chair to help out for a day because Thursday is my day – I’ll find something to do. Friday I’m at the Laser Clinic and private practice, after seeing my two babies of course. Life just got mixed up.

I am a big believer in mixing stuff up. I have an entire life of variety and all I had to do to get that was to give up any hope of dying with a nice boat. Others do it better but I have a habit of getting bored, just when things get secure. My wife tells everyone I have ADHD but I’m the counselor and I’m firmly convinced that I don’t want that diagnosis. But then again, I’m bored now so let’s move on.

Change is good. It reminds us that we are alive. Change brings back our creative passions and exposes us to experiences. When this happens I like to call that “living”. Sometimes I can go weeks without really living, just getting by. I have no idea if I am going to like this decision, but there is no turning back without repercussions. I like that, in theory.

The chairs in this little corner office are very retro cool, and I have no idea what color they are. In my ear I can hear several creative females in my life-giving me “the look” before condescending to tell me the color is sea-foam hippy sweat or some such. They remind me of the talking chairs in Alice in Wonderland or The Beauty and the Beast or Sons of Anarchy, I get them mixed up.  It may all seem strange but soon, like anything and anyone, it becomes normal, regular. I’ll worry about that some other time. Today I’m just happy that it’s sunny out, I’m off to meet a Chief, and my sea-foam hippy chair mixes nicely with the 1978 carpet and the trailer paneling. I’m content.

Beginnings And Endings

It’s that time of the year again. Time to look ahead in anticipation of what is not yet. We are in a state of becoming. Everything has been made new.

It’s also a time to say goodbye. Gone are those opportunities, those days and days of petty complaints and problems that seem now, now that time has gone, to hold little lasting meaning. What has been done has been done and it’s already slipping into our long-term trashcan in our memory. Time is moving so very fast.

I’m not the guy I was a year ago. I have felt change this past year and am moving towards that day when I will know myself fully and accept myself completely. Life is good, in spite of its constant inconveniences. I am seeing some successes, even if they aren’t financial. There are people in my life who love me and I am in love with my family.

In spite of the relentless passing of time it is important to live a life of gratitude. There are many things, so many things, to complain about. So many reasons to be bitter.

I have found that as people age they tend to become a caricature of themselves. The happy people become radiant old gentlemen and ladies. The negative people spend their days telling others like themselves their litany of physical aches and pains while discussing how this world is “going to hell in a handbag”. They are miserable and want you to know all about it.

There are two roads that diverge in this world, and you know what I’m talking about. We all know where we are aiming on that road, as much as a few of us hate to admit it. It’s not too late.

Be Brave

I ran across this drug commercial a few days ago and it reminded me that each one of us, in spite of our challenges and insecurities, can make a difference.

No one knows your failures and shortcomings as much as you do. You don’t need someone pointing out your cellulite, or your balding pate, or the fact that you put your foot in your mouth. No one needs to remind you that you are not perfect. I often ask people, “If ten people tell you that you are beautiful and one person tells you that you are ugly, which one will you remember?” The answer is the same for all of us. We are a generation of people who wonder if we matter, wonder if anyone would love us if they really knew who we are. Many of us feel unremarkable and worry that we will never change the world, or even our little piece of it.

I have tried to do many remarkable things in my life, and usually failed. It is tempting, therefore, to think that we are somehow inadequate, or flawed, or “less”. No one is lining up to tell you that you are spectacular. There are all kinds of people who will remind you of your ugliness, or lack. Don’t believe them.

It has taken me most of my life to understand that I am worth it. I have never been famous (cable TV in Fort McMurray doesn’t count as famous), and will probably never be rich or on the cover of Time magazine. As a society we make a big deal about the pretty people who get handed movie contracts because of their photoshopped looks, or those who can hit a puck or a ball through a net or a hoop. Culture makes a big deal about someone who can sing, but not about those who can sing but don’t know anyone who will give them a recording contract. We tend to honor the rich, the connected; those lucky enough to be born into the right family with the right breaks.

This video is dedicated to the little people – to those who make a difference all the time even though no one is rolling the camera. Every one of us can change our world. Every one of us can make a difference in the lives of someone, even if no one else notices.

I have people who have changed my life and chances are you do as well. When I die I hope someone will say of me, “At least he tried. At least he tried to help someone, to give hope, to live sacrificially, to change his world.”

Fear keeps us from trying crazy and magical things. From attempting glorious failures and amazing screw-ups. So much of life is boring and mundane. I don’t know about you but living my life to make a living and pay a mortgage is not enough for me.

At least we tried…

Gratitude

She came in for needle exchange, “for a friend”. It was her first time here so I took the basic information. It was her 50th birthday today. The only gift I could offer was coffee.

Here’s the thing – she had no idea it was her birthday. October 3, 1963. She was turning 50, a milestone birthday. A time to gather your friends and have a few laughs and toast to a life well spent. She was at an addictions centre picking up needles and paraphernalia. There were no surprise parties for Shannon, no balloons and cake; only an alley somewhere and a needle full of hate.

Sometimes I forget how lucky I am to be where I am, doing what I am, with whom I am. I forget that, in spite of still having no jet ski, I am so incredibly blessed I can not even fully understand how much. I have a home and a family and dreams. Shannon has nothing and probably no hope at all.

Once in a while it’s good to remember that just being born in my situation is winning the lottery.

 

In Defence Of Whining

Women: We don’t snore, we don’t perspire, and we don’t pass wind. If we didn’t bitch, we’d explode!  Kathleen Madigan

If it wasn’t for whining I probably wouldn’t have a job.

No one likes a whiner, so they say. This is a truism that is, not surprisingly, often true. Going around in life complaining about everything from the weather to your lot in life is a great way to die alone.

There is a time and a place for everything (I am cliché guy today, apparently). We have been taught, however, that repressing your feelings is also not helpful and there are actual psychological disorders for people who cannot, or will not, deal with their feelings. Whining has a cathartic effect for the same reason talk therapy works. I don’t really know the logistics of how it works, but it does. I’ve seen it thousands of times.

As you have no doubt discovered by now, I am not really talking about whining. I needed a cool tagline that would entice you to read this far and hyperbole helps clarify and get us thinking. “Whining” is considered a character flaw. The problem is that we have a tendency to label any honest complaint, any legitimate need to unpack, as whining. As children we are forced to “keep our opinions to ourself”. We are taught from early childhood, “If you don’t have anything to say, don’t say anything at all.” Again, true… sort of. As we grow we devalue our feelings, minimize our issues, and stuff our pain and frustration down.

“There is always someone who has it worse than you!”. Who cares! Sometimes that isn’t very helpful. Of course some people are dying, losing someone, battling stuff I can’t even imagine. I get that. The problem is, again, that this doesn’t make me feel any better. It minimizes my pain, your pain. It is a critical statement that puts us in our place at the expense of our heart and mental health. It is a reminder that you are weak, or pathetic, or self-indulgent.

So feel sorry for yourself if you want to – but give yourself a time limit. Let those bad feeling flow, but not for an entire day or even an hour. For some reason this actually can help, when done honestly and with a measure of restraint. Don’t stay there, however. Maybe you need to talk to someone, someone who is not your best friend who loves you, but lacks objectivity. Perhaps that friend is just what you need and I am wrong. Whatever you do, do something.

Just keep moving, you whiner (kidding).

The Rest Of My Life

Logan's Run (film)

I am getting shockingly old. I’m not quite sure how it happened but one day I was mildly cool (back when cool was a thing) and seemingly the next day I was old. How did this happen? I was always the younger, crazier, extremophile. I have a one year old grandchild now. What the hell happened!?

The older you get the faster time seems to go. This is not just an illusion, it’s a scientific fact that is just one more way aging sucks. When I was a teen life went on forever. I was never going to get old. I remember watching a rerun of Logan’s Run wherein people were zapped when they hit 25 (or went to heaven). I have a vivid recollection of thinking, “What’s the big deal, you’re 25!” Where did the time go?

There is an old cliché which goes something like this, “Make the rest of your life the best of your life.” It’s cheesy, as clichés are, but also contains a grain of truth. Have you ever noticed how old people tend to be a caricature of themselves? Their nose and ear hair aren’t the only things that keep growing. It seems like seniors tend to go one of two ways, either more bitter or more gracious. Some old people could teach classes on bitterness. The accumulated effect of tragedy and pain, age and trauma, just leaches the happy out of some older adults. The closer they come to death the less they seem to live. Maybe this is nature’s way of preparing us for death but I really don’t want anything to do with it.

I remember some years ago seeing a religious punk band in the states and noticing that there was this really really old guy dancing in the front row with piercings, and leather and a shaved head. It seemed kind of comical until I found out this was his band. The kids on stage were being mentored by this aging Fonzie. When I spoke to them about him they suddenly perked up and stared at me, straight in the eye. This guy was their hero. He was the coolest old fart they had ever met. They worshiped the ground this geriatric walked on. This was their pastor, their mentor, their biggest fan and supporter. I was inspired.

I want to be like that old dude. I want to live my second half in such a way that shocks the conservatives and inspires the youth. I want to suck the marrow out of life and leave on a thunderbolt. No one wants to look back at their life and wish they had given it a better effort. I may never be rich or famous but I want to be effective, leave a legacy, change lives. There has to be more to life than accumulating a bunch of junk and arriving at death with a good-looking corpse.

i occasionally show up at parties my kids go to. Don’t get me wrong, I have a standing invitation. My boys hang out with people I like and who give me a measure of respect, probably because I am so damn old. It’s an amazing experience, hanging out with people half my age who appear actually happy to see me. I get to play the icon for a few minutes, the one old fart who is having a good time with them on a Saturday night.

Someday, when I am much older, I want to still show up at the party for a good time. I can’t stop the aging process but I can decide what kind of old fart I want to be. Making the next part of my life the best part of my life is entirely my choice. I have some things I never had before, things like wisdom and experience which others find helpful. It’s up to me whether or not anyone will want to listen.

6 Ugly Truths You Need To Accept To Pull Yourself Out Of A Rut

Great Article via The Huffington Post:

They aren’t pretty, but they are the kind of wake-up calls that we need to give ourselves every once in while. Columnist Leigh Newman explains.

1. Love Is Not A Stative Verb

In elementary school, we were all taught about stative verbs. Perhaps you remember them? Statives are those verbs that describe a state of being or mental condition, such as “to feel” or “to be” or “to believe.” Love, for example, is classified as one. You feel it.

Now let’s look at a few situations that have me questioning how this grammar plays out in life outside the classroom. Example #1: My friend who keeps sending his mentally unstable mother $2,000 a month even though she is young enough to still work and racks up debt on credit cards that would make a gambling addict panic. Example #2: My 42-year-old girlfriend who keeps meeting the same 42-year-old man over and over and over at 1 a.m. at which point he shyly, drunkenly, adorably reveals that she is his soul mate, only to go back to his 27-year-old fiancée at 7 a.m.

These kinds of dynamics — and others like them — have recently persuaded me that love is not a condition or a state of mind. Love is not a stative verb at all. Love is a dynamic verb. Love is action. Love is dumping the 27-year-old fiancée. Love is refusing money from your son because he’s taken on two moonlighting jobs to support you and he can’t afford his rent, much less the black Lab he’s always wanted. Love is sprinting, struggling, splatting, crawling, kick-boxing, climbing, leaping into the thick of the battle for your own — and someone else’s — happiness.

2. To Learn Is To Watch… And Ask

Like many Americans, I am a teach-it-yourselfer. So is the rest of my family. When I wanted to learn how to play tennis, my dad dropped me off at the local high school with a racket and a tube of three green balls, and told me to hit the backboard “until I got the hang of my swing.” As an adult, when I need to screw on a ski rack or create a Google spreadsheet or cook an obscure Chinese green, I figure it out via trial and error. Why? I think I’ll understand the task more profoundly by teaching myself. A recent study at the University of Louisville however, found that figuring things out yourself takes longer — with far less accurate results — than observing and communicating with others in the know. Watching the experts — and asking them for their expertise — results in a faster, richer learning curve.

3. Pig Newtons Are So Fig Newtons

Fig Newtons

Be they disempowered toddlers or exhausted parents or fed-up coworkers or confused, random, mentally unstable strangers on the street, our fellow humans sometimes make up insanely stupid points — then fight fiercely in defense of them. Only Louis C.K. can make this funny. But he does have a point. People — and not just kids — will insist Fig Newtons are actually called Pig Newtons. They will claim Mississippi has seven s’s in it. They will swear the sun covers the moon during a lunar eclipse. Your job is not to argue or present the truth to them. You will not get anywhere and you will turn into the crazy person trying to argue your case. Your job is to go to the bathroom and laugh. Or write down your insanely correct points on a piece of a paper towel — and then flush them down the toilet.

4. When Overwhelmed, Cache And Drag

During the Gold Rush days, on the famed Chilkoot Pass between Canada and Alaska, each traveler was required by the Mounties to drag one full ton of “adequate” food and supplies up the 32 miles that led over the icy summits. Some of these travelers, by the way, were women wearing corsets and long, full skirts. And yet, they succeeded. How? By caching (read: storing) 950 pounds of their supplies by the side of the path, then dragging (read: dragging) a mere 50 pounds for a half a mile forward, then returning to the cache for another 50 pounds, and so on. When it all worked out, a person might walk 80 miles for every single mile they moved their provisions — which sounds discouraging. But in this way, they were able to move — literally — a mountain of food, pots, tools, water and everything else they needed to build a new life. I’m not suggesting that any of us pack up the contents of our house and drag them in 50-pound bundles through the streets. But sometimes, it can be helpful to put an idea or dream to the side for a while and then, in full defiance of our relentlessly go-forward-at-all-costs culture, to go backward and haul the crucial supplies necessary to make it come to fruition.

5. You Don’t Have To Go To The Gym To Work Out

At home, I have a set of free weights, two yoga mats, an elliptical trainer, three yoga videos and a nifty package called OM Yoga in a Box. I haven’t touched any of it in months. The workout that I do is pushing my 35-pound 4-year-old two miles each morning over to “Super Hero Camp” in the 90-degree heat. I exercise my arms and legs. I sweat off five pounds. The news that you don’t have to go to the gym to work out should be a wonderful truth instead of a hideous one. You can run up the stairs to your office. You can pick up your husband and put him down over and over. Right now, you could be running in place while reading this article. Amazing! Wonderful! But think about it: You don’t have to go to the gym to work out. That means you can work out anywhere and anytime — which means all those lovely lies about not being able to work off your stress and take care of yourself are now officially unutterable.

6. You Already Dreamed The Dream

I’m not sure who is going to invent a machine that will inventory everything that goes through our brains, and until this is actually invented, this last truth may have to be reclassified as a hunch.

But it does seem as if so many of us worry that we don’t know the one crucial thing that we should be doing in life, the thing that will fulfill us more than any other. Even if we were given all the time and resources in the world, we still wouldn’t know what to do.

This is ridiculous. From what I have seen in life, I don’t think we need to go looking for some new “mystery” dream. The most important ones we’ve already had. Sure, at a very young age the idea of being a sea captain or ballet dancer occurred to us. But at an older, wiser age, we thought, “I should own a bookstore!” or “I love jam so much I should make it” or “Wouldn’t it be fun to be a tour guide in Italy?” We just failed to tie our lives to it. We let it float off, where it eventually ran out of air, sank and got buried by 1,000 other more practical or less scary or far less specific dreams.

It feels a little horrible to confront the truth that you knew what you wanted to do (even for .04 seconds) and didn’t do it. Then again, understanding or maybe just believing that the dream exists and that we just have to root around for it — not invent it into being — does something amazing. It calms us down. It takes away all the side worries like, “Maybe I’m not creative enough to dream” or “Maybe I’m just one of those people who don’t dream.” Looking for it becomes like looking for a missing house key while still at home; there’s no need to panic. You just have to find what’s already there.

Rempel Island

Scott SkiingI love slalom skiing. Wakeboarding is fine. We even surf behind the ski boat these days. There is something, however, I love about that feeling of creating a big rooster tail, feeling the rhythm, living in that moment. I don’t own a boat (I whine about that here sometimes) but I have a good friend who will, if I pout enough, take me for a ski every now and then. This past long weekend we launched the boat on the Fraser River and took a cruise towards Vancouver, had lunch on Rempel Island… and I got out the ski.

Fraser RiverSomething happens to me when I water ski that rarely happens in the real world. I can truly, for a few brief moments, live in the moment. I’m not thinking about the mortgage or my problems, I don’t even care about my family or my finances. All I want to do is cross the wake and lean. I’m not a great slalom skier but I am a decent one and so I don’t have to think much about falling or screwing up. I just “am”.

About a month ago we went skiing on Alouette Lake during an overnight campout with two of my kids, my ski boat buddy Rod, and a lifelong friend Martin. We woke up Sunday morning and soon realized that no one, not a single person, was on the entire twelve-mile long lake. I put on the ski and dipped into the 72 degree water. Within seconds I was up and began the rhythm, the poetry that is slalom skiing. I was alone on a lake surrounded by mountains on all four sides, the water was glass and warm. I was fully alive.

Zen.

I wish more of my life was like those moments. Too much of life is lived looking forward or backwards, worrying about stuff and people and problems, trying to make a living while wishing I was in Rod’s boat. Life has a way of taking up most of our time. Few of us are rich enough to spend our life waterskiing. It’s tempting, isn’t it, to pine for that which we do not have and miss out on the blessings we should enjoy.

Mindfulness. In counseling I talk about it all the time but often fail to live it myself. Mindfulness is allowing yourself to be in the moment, enjoy the journey, and appreciate what is happening right now. We are a discontented people who have been raised with champagne wishes and caviar dreams; never satisfied and constantly stressed.

I got a little Pelican kayak for my birthday last week from some good friends and family who know me enough to realize that I need to paddle something. For most of my life I have been passionate about whitewater canoeing. I have canoed the Nahanni, the Clearwater River, the Foster River, the Muskeg River, several rivers in Colorado and northern Canada. I’ve done the Kootenay River four times now with my boys, my brother, my dad and my best friends from Alberta. When I dream of canoeing I dream of the Churchill River, of Great Devil Rapids, of wrapping a canoe around a rock on Donaldson Chamber with my old friend Don Hand. Paddling is in my blood and I have tried to instil that love in my three boys. Floating down Otter Rapids in your life jacket is something everyone should do at least once in their life. I have memories of friends and moments, so many moments, that will stick with me for life. My happy places – rivers and lakes and slalom skis and Rod’s boat.

I am trying to live other moments as well. Moments at work, playing with Angus, kissing the people I adore, talking with friends, playing in the band. It’s tempting, isn’t it, to forget to enjoy what is happening at this very moment and dream of times long past or dreams to come. Mindfulness reminds me to smile right now, even on dry land.

I’m still going to paddle my new kayak out to Rempel Island this week.

Birthday Reflections

He was obviously at least twenty years older than she was. He was also ignoring her as she texted away, seemingly oblivious to my stares. Why was she with him?

They got into a Mercedes. I know I shouldn’t speculate but I have known many clients, often more female than male, who are attracted to people with money or power. I have a hard time getting my head around such a desire but I know it exists and is doing quite well.

If there is any moral lesson to The Wedding Singer it’s that you should do what you love, rock that mullet, and damn the money. Corporate sellouts with feathered hair and a taste for Heineken will ultimately lose the girl to the hobo guitar player and his pure love.

It can happen. Some people love musicians. I’m fairly certain, however, and I’m not really going out on a whim here, that more people, way more, like money and all the spicy things money can buy. If you fall in love you might as well fall in love with someone who is rich, right? Musicians may vibrate my crazy bone but a lawyer with a Maserati keeps on giving. The meek may inherit the earth but the rich suffer in comfort. Money may not buy you happiness, as the comedian said, but want to know what really doesn’t buy you happiness? Poverty, poverty does not buy you happiness.

Many of us find security important. It would be, for lack of a better illustration, on the Top Three List Of Our Values. It’s easy to be idealistic and want to save the world when you are twenty and will never grow old. It’s another thing altogether when all your friends are retiring and you are a greeter at Wal-Mart… again.

I want a ski boat. I’ll never get one but it’s still nice to dream of water-skiing on Alouette Lake on a warm Sunday

Alouette lake May13-07, late afternoon

morning. It’s tempting to believe that my life would be incrementally better if I only had a boat. It’s not true, but it’s easy to that it is. It was easier to be idealistic when I was younger. I still want a ski boat.

Being true to who you are and what you want out of life can be hard. It’s tempting to wander down little side roads that promise something quick, easy, and free. It’s often difficult to continue to give when you see others benefiting so heavily from taking. Most optimists end up as realists, pessimists who aren’t very self-aware. The rich do get richer and sometimes the assholes win. Often. Other people do have it easier than you might. Some of my friends did fall accidentally into opportunities I never had. Some did worse, but they don’t support my argument so I’ll pretend they don’t exist.

So many bitter old people. So many of us who have forgotten what we loved about living, forgotten to tip our heads into the sunshine. We have taken ourselves too seriously. There has been too much trauma, too much ‘water under the bridge’. Life is routine and pain and boredom and drama, all wrapped up into a little financially strapped ball of poop.

Learning to understand why your life has meaning is perhaps the meaning of life. Making peace with your demons, putting your hurts to rest, and refusing to get old and bitter, these are the real spiritual quests before us. Amazing lives are no accident. Spending more time reading psychology and philosophy, even theology defines those who are on a quest to be more than they were. Wisdom is the goal, contentment the gift.

It’s my birthday today and I’ve decided that I don’t want to get bitter, growing older. I really don’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself, blaming things on others. There are still scary and challenging mountains to climb, it’s just more and more tempting to sit on the sidelines. I want to be that old guy who is so alive he cannot be ignored.

Like my dad.

Who Switched The Price Tags?

Tony Campolo tells the story of a group of criminals who break into a department store but don’t steal anything. Instead they went around and switched all the price tags. Just imagine the frustration and confusion! He goes on to talk about the propensity within ourselves to switch the price tags – things that are valuable become not valuable. Once worthless things become important. We start putting stock in things that are not important, or healthy, or helpful.

Couples often do that with each other. Hot button issues like sex and communication become bones of contention, or simply too explosive to see in perspective. We begin to notice the flaws in that other’s character and become unsettled. We fixate on what is lacking and feel unappreciated or unfulfilled.

Expectations have forced us to switch the price tags.

There was a time when you couldn’t wait to connect emotionally with that person, but somehow that doesn’t happen much anymore. We started by putting that girlfriend or boyfriend’s needs before our own. It was all about them. You appreciated that they loved you. But things have changed.

In counseling I am fond of telling people that if they want to be happy in their relationship they need to lower their expectations. I have recently taken a second look at that idea and realize that it is more about changing your expectations than lowering them. Happy spouses remind themselves constantly how fortunate they are that someone else would love them enough to dedicate the rest of their life to that person. When I start telling myself that I am lucky to have a wife like Annette it actually transforms how I treat her, and how often I am offended by her. This crazy chick went way beyond the requirements of friendship. Not only does she love me but she is willing to align her future with mine – a truly stupid thing to do.

The more I cultivate gratitude in my feelings towards my wife the better things seem to go in my relationship. As I change my expectations I change my attitude. It is my choice to take what she says wrong. It is my choice to be offended, or angered, or frustrated. Sure she can piss me off – she can be so female, sometimes. She is like a different, albeit extremely attractive, species. Annette is very, very different than I am and it is tempting to become frustrated or negative towards her when she says or thinks things that a man cannot understand or appreciate.  But here’s the clincher, as they say: the more I celebrate her uniqueness the happier I find myself. The more I try to change her, the more I flail misery around me.

The older I get the more I realize that happiness and contentment are things that I choose, they don’t come naturally.