Hey, Look … I’m a Writer

For the past nine months or so I’ve been driving part-time as a ride share driver. For those of you who may not know what a “ride share driver” is, let me explain. A ride share driver is a person who picks up random strangers and takes them to random destinations. It’s fun and awkward all at the same time. It’s weird to think about how someone came up with the idea.

CEO: “What if we drive around the city and pick up random strangers and take them places?”

Venture Capitalist: “Do people want that?”

CEO: “I don’t know.”

VC: “But will random strangers want to get in a car with random strangers?”

CEO: “I don’t know.”

VC: “So people would request a random stranger to take them to random places and then maybe another random stranger take them back to a random place …”

CEO: “Like home?”

VC: “Yeah, like home, which is familiar to them but not to the random stranger who is driving the random stranger. Is that what you’re talking about? ”

CEO: “Yeah, like that?”

VC: “Would people pay for that?”

CEO: “I don’t know.”

VC: “Let me get my checkbook.”

In all honesty though, it’s been fun and I’ve met a lot of great people and I’ve made a little bit of money. So there’s that.

The awkward part for most people is the “elevator small talk” people have to make in the car. I’ve been on both sides as a driver and a passenger and it’s just weird. So inevitably somebody will get in the car and say, “So do you do this full time or …?”

And my response is always the same, “It’s $2 extra for meaningful conversation.”

Ha. Just kidding. I usually ask for $5.

Not true.

I always tell them “well, I’m actually a writer by trade.” I don’t know what “by trade” means, but I’ve been saying it for quite some time now. I’m a writer by trade. Like I working at this Starbucks, but I’m actually a cobbler by trade.

“Oh, you make shoes?”

“Yeah. You want whipped cream with that?”

Yeah, I’m a writer by trade. I then go on to explain that I worked in the newspaper biz for many years and when I got downsized a couple of years ago …

Wait. What? What the hell does “downsized” mean?

Good question. I don’t know. I just like the word. It’s better than “laid off” or “fired” or “given other opportunities” or whatever else. Basically, it’s saying the management at the newspaper office decided they needed to save some money, so they chose the person who had the highest salary.

Me.

Haha. That’s a joke. I was the least talented and most expendable. The good news is that a couple of weeks later I was offered my old job back as a new “freelance position” for slightly less than minimum wage.

But I digress.

Anyway, I was “downsized” and I decided not to take another job in the newspaper industry. So I do a little writing on the side and I drive part-time. But basically, I say, “I’m a writer,” which is true but it’s also not so true. I am a writer. For sure. 100 percent. The problem is I haven’t been writing. It’s not that I haven’t written at all, it’s just that I haven’t written very much. After writing several thousand words each week and editing several thousand more for more than a decade, over the past two years, I haven’t been writing that much. That’s the truth. No reason really, just haven’t had the desire to write. I’m a writer without the desire to write. You ever feel that way? Something that you have been passionate about for years and then one day, you reach the burn-out point and you just stop?

It’s hard. Not the not writing part, that part was easy. But the not writing part when I should have been writing part, that was hard. It was easy not to do it — the actual act of writing, which is very hard. But it is hard on you mentally — the actual part that makes you feel whole. It leaves something missing. I guess because something is missing. So, I’m sitting down right now and tapping these keys trying to put anything down on paper, so that I can say “I’m writing.” And when people ask, “what else do you do?” I can honestly say, “I’m a cobbler by trade.”

Staring at the new gate 

I just finished reading a story about autonomous cars. And I am now afraid to leave my home. For those of you who may not know what autonomous cars are, let me explain. Autonomous cars are cars that are completely autonomous. Isn’t that frightening?  

Just kidding. It’s not. It’s the self-driving cars that scare me. And why shouldn’t they? Imagine robot cars all over the road. Driving all fast and changing lanes without looking or signaling. Or maybe even driving all up on your rear end as your going 75 mph in a fast lane down the highway. 

Oh wait. I’m thinking about actual cars driven by actual humans. 

Maybe self-driving cars aren’t that scary at all. By the way, I do realize that autonomous cars and self-driving cars are basically the same thing. Basically. 

The thought of self-driving cars is both exciting and a little bit scary. Maybe scary isn’t the right word. Maybe it makes me anxious to think about it. Probably because it’s so new. I don’t understand how they are going to work. New things do that too me. 

The preacher at my church a long time ago use to have a saying, “He was looking at it like a calf staring at a new gate.” Every time he said it we would all laugh and laugh. Most of us didn’t actually understand what that meant, but we would laugh nonetheless. 

Actually if you ever been on a farm, you might have noticed that little baby cows — or bulls — do kind of get that far-a-way look in their eyes when staring at something new, like, for instance, a new gate. They don’t know what to make of it. Human babies do the same thing. If you don’t believe me, watch a two-month old human child as you try to explain Newt Gingrich. That baby-child will look at you like a calf staring at a new gate. 

New things are scary. I imagine the first time people started really contemplating that aero-planes might actually be able to take us from one coast to the other that it was scary. Really scary. 

“We will never be able to fly from New York to Cal-i-for-NI-A in one of those contraptions,” they thought as they sat around the radio on Saturday nights listening to The Newt Gingrich Show. They couldn’t fathom something so “out there” so “futuristic.” Now we fly all the time. In less than 100 years we have gone from a man with giant feathered wings jumping off a barn to taking an Uber to the airport and landing in Madrid, Spain in less than 24 hours. 

That’s a calf staring at a new gate kind of stuff. 

New is hard. But new is fun. Raise your hand if you want to go back to not flying or not getting on the Internet or not taking Uber or having to listen to The Newt Gingrich Show. Now that would be terrifying. 

It’s probably better just to embrace new technology. Embrace anything new. Except that woman in the grocery store line, don’t just go embracing her. She might do a little more than stare at you like a calf staring at a new gate.  

What A Wonderful Life …

Louie Armstrong sang about it. And Pro. Lothar Schafer wrote about it in his book, “Infinite Potential.”

Here’s what he suggests about life and its potential:

“What a wonderful life, in which the playful waves in the cosmic ocean dare you, tease you, and play a game of hide and seek with you, all the time hoping that you will catch one and turn it into a beautiful poem, a painting, a song, or a wonderful act of human kindness.”

So, what are we doing with our “playful waves”?

Black out poetry.

Here is my first stab at black out poetry inspired by Austin Kleon.

I guess it was financially inspired, although that wasn’t the intention.

Enjoy.

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This one is another way Wall Street could work

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This one is one good way to make Big Money

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And finally … A little Funny Money

The Seed In Me

acorn
This photo above is a simple acorn, the seed of the Oak Tree. They are small — only about an inch tall — but within that tiny shell is the potential to be a giant oak tree.

When I was in high school, I almost applied for a scholarship at Oklahoma State University to get a degree in the study of seeds. It sounded good at first, a free education at a large state school. Then I realized something: I would be studying seeds! Seeds! Did you hear me? Seeds!!!

I’m sure I would have been good at it. By now, I would have been an award winning student of the seed. But alas, I didn’t not study seeds. I’m happy that I didn’t because now I can enjoy my current job of drinking coffee and taking naps (not together, of course).

I have to admit that I don’t understand seeds that much at all. I don’t get how they work. How in the world can something so small, something that just a few months ago didn’t even exist, grow into something much larger? From acorns, to tomato seeds to human sperm and eggs, all of these seeds have to capacity to produce something much larger. Everything it needs is inside.

full grown oak tree
A small acorn can grow into a giant oak tree.

The same potential that lies in the seed is in human. I have the potential to do something much larger in the world. It’s easy for me to struggle with my thoughts sometimes and fall into the trap that I can’t do something because I’m not enough — not talented enough, not smart enough, not big enough, not young enough, not pretty enough, NOT (fill in the blank) enough.

But it’s not true.
I
AM
enough.

The same power of The Universe inside the seed, is in me. I have access to the same field of potentiality as the seed. Something small in me can grow into something much larger in this world.

It’s not because I’m special. I am just like you. You have access to the same field of potentiality. We all do. We can take a small seed of thought, of faith, plant it in the fertile soil of potential, believe that it’s going to grow and sit back and watch The Universe go to work in our life.

It’s the Law. And it’s a good law.

Damn, maybe I should have studied seeds after all.

Anyway, now I need to get back to work. I’ve got some seeds to plant.

DIY You — Go Ahead And Love Yourself

Two of my favorite Bible passages are in Matthew. The first is in chapter 7. Some people refer to it as The Golden Rule:

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” — Matthew 7:12

I too believe that this verse sums up the law and the prophets, or the entire bible. Maybe though the focus is going in the wrong direction. Maybe instead of focusing on the “others” and “them” part, we should focus on the “you” part.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was in church work, I used to use a little acrostic to help people understand the way to find inner peace or joy. I used the word JOY and it stood for Jesus, Others and You.

The way I taught this acrostic was if you put Jesus and others before yourself, you will find joy.

That was backwards. You can’t love others, including Jesus, if you don’t love yourself first. It’s impossible.

Joy and peace is inside you. That’s why it’s called inner peace. We look for it outside ourselves most of the time, but you can’t find it there.

Peace and joy

Are inside

Each of

Us.

In order to truly find peace and joy, we must love. But we need to get the order of loving right. I will use the acrostic YOGOWYCYHP. It goes like this.

Y — The Y stands for you. You have to start here. If you don’t love yourself, you will be incapable of loving anyone else. The verses above say “love your neighbor as YOUrself” and “what you wish for others to do to YOU, do to them.” If you don’t like yourself, how will you treat others? I think we all know the answer.

Loving yourself isn’t always easy. We tend to grow up with a lot of guilt here in the West. Everywhere we look is another way to feel guilty.

Look at all the stuff you have.

Why can’t you be more like little Johnny? He’s perfect.

Stop masturbating or you’ll go blind.

That’s a lot of guilt to hang on to.

Next thing you know, you don’t like yourself too much because you have too much stuff, you mess up too much or you touch yourself. It’s exhausting. And then you start projecting your own “sins” onto those around you. You don’t like them because you see too much of yourself in others.

How do we overcome that?

First off, don’t judge. And start with yourself. Allow yourself to make mistakes. They aren’t necessarily good or bad, they just are. The only way a mistake can be bad is if you continue to dwell on it and don’t move on to live in the now. If you do something you don’t like too much, instead of feeling guilty, feel forgiveness for yourself. You are a human being trying your best.

And then …

O — The O stands for others. After we start loving ourselves more and stop judging our own missteps, it’s a little easier to see that other people are really just like us. They are human beings trying their best. As a matter of fact, they stop being “others” and they become one of us, brothers and sisters, unified, unstoppable.

Before long, even the people we don’t necessarily like to be around can feel our love, peace, joy, and non-judgment. We realize that to judge others is really judging ourselves. Nobody wants that.

If you want others to treat you like you would treat you, then make sure you treat you in a positive, loving, joyful way. Then you will be able to love your neighbors the same way and they will love you right back.

GOWYCYHP — The GOWYCYHP stands for God Or Whatever You Call Your Higher Power. After you start loving yourself, you are able to love others. Then you can start loving everything else. Some people call that “everything” else God or Allah or whatever. Sometimes it’s animals or nature or something that really can’t be explained or even seen. Ultimately, it’s the thing outside of us that is bigger than us. It’s the thing that connects us.

And yet

It is

Us.

Shoot. Maybe the acrostic should just be

ONE.

Love

You.

Period.

There is nothing else. All of creation is made up of the same stuff as a tree, a mountain, a stream, a computer, a car or the cast of a reality television show.

Practice loving you, because in the end, that’s all there really is.

If You’re Happy And You Know It, Tell Your Face

big smile

(This post was originally published in July 2011. Enjoy).

I once bought a book based solely on the cover. I realize that people will say not to do that, but I did it anyway. I also quickly figured out why the old adage to not judge a book by the cover is so true after reading the first few pages of my newly acquired Harlequin Romance novel.

Millions of dollars are spent each and every year on book covers. Marketing on book covers could mean the difference between a New York Time’s bestseller and a book selling for $2 the clearance shelf.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been using this space to tell millions of readers of this column how to get their lives back, or at least how I rediscovered my own life. This week I want to continue with my thoughts with a look at the classic smile.

Just like buying a book, sometimes we are judged based on our cover. Sometimes, I’m afraid that we even judge ourselves based on our “cover”, our smile. The good news is, unlike a book on the clearance shelf, we can change our cover to improve our lives.

That’s all because the smile is a powerful thing.

A University of California Berkley study looked at photos from a high school yearbook and tried to measure their success throughout life just based on how a photo looked.

According to Ron Gutman, who was part of the study, “by measuring their student smiles, researchers were able to predict how fulfilling and long-lasting a subject’s marriage will be, how well she would score on standardized tests of well-being and how inspiring she would be to others.”

Gutman pointed to another study in 2010 at Wayne State University, where researchers did a similar study of baseball cards. Researchers found that the span of a player’s smile related to his actual life span.

“Players who didn’t smile in their pictures lived an average of only 72.9 years, where players with beaming smiles lived an average of almost 80 years,” Gutman said.

That seems a little nuts, but I believe it happens for two reasons: 1) because we feel better when we smile. 2) because others see us differently when we smile.

Smiling, while a simple act, seems to automatically elevate a person’s mood. It’s hard for me to be mad when I smile. You would probably find that true too.

And I don’t know about you, but I seem to be more drawn to people who smile. If a cashier at the store has a mopey frown on their face, I’m more likely to move to another line or at least not engage that person like I might someone who is smiling.

Being happy has got to extend a person’s life, if not by quantity than at least by quality. It’s a miserable existence to go through life without a smile.

I haven’t always been a smiling person. When I look back at my school year photos I see a kid with a half smirk on his face (except for my third grade photo, which I swear was switched with some little red-headed buck-toothed kid and isn’t me to begin with). I was a pretty happy kid, I guess, but a lot of times my face didn’t show it.

Maybe that’s why the Mona Lisa is such an inspiring and mysterious painting. That little upturn to his lips reveals that something is going on in Mona’s life that we aren’t privy too and it drives us nuts. We want to know her secret.

A couple of years ago I needed to find out how to get the happiness of my childhood back.

So I read somewhere that smiling is an important part of the way we feel and how others feel about us. So I started to smile more.

I still don’t do it all the time. Sometimes when I’m out in public I seem to have a very intense look on my face, some might even call it a scowl. I can tell when other people catch me with my scowl because they look at me different. I’m sure they are wondering, “why is that guy so angry? Is it because he listens to too much Rush Limbaugh? Why are his shoes untied? Why is his hair so messed up like that? Why doesn’t he get that mustard stain off his shirt?” You know, those types of questions.

It’s those looks that remind me that I need to soften the face, relax my lips and smile.

As you can tell from my column mug shot, I sometimes still have more of a smirk than a full-out smile. But I smile.

You try it. It feels pretty good. See you just smiled right there didn’t you?

I think all my readers should go around for the next 30 days or so and smile every chance you get. Smile at a baby. Smile at a playing dog. Smile at a person who isn’t smiling. Smile at Rush Limbaugh. Whatever the situation, smile. That would be millions of people out there making a difference (Editor’s note: Or at least a dozen or so).

It will probably make you feel better immediately. And people will think you must be a happy, successful individual or you wouldn’t be smiling like the Cheshire Cat.

When people look at me, I want them to see a person that enjoys life, likes to be happy and doesn’t listen to Rush Limbaugh.

A smile could add years to your life. And if it doesn’t, it will surely add life to your years.