Thursday, December 31, 2015

B+ Kind of Person

I’ve always been a B+ kind of person.  In school I was a good student, but not outstanding.  My typical grade was B+.  I became a good tennis player, but never made that last leap to become a top player.  In my work career I did a good job and moved up to be a solid manager, but never an outstanding leader.  My writing is improving, I have eleven published books, but I haven’t broken into the top tier..

When I undertake new responsibilities, I want to do a good job.  There is part of me that strives for excellence so I continue to put in the effort to succeed at whatever I undertake.

Like in Lake Wobegone where all the children are above average, I tend to be above average in whatever I do.  I’m a pretty good father, husband and grandfather.  I made a good income.

There’s part of me that wants to be the best.  When I played competitive tennis, I wanted to be a champion.  In my working career, I wanted to excel.  I want to do well as a writer. 

Then there’s another part of me that says, “No, I don’t want to make the sacrifice to really go for it.”  I never wanted to sacrifice my family for my career.  When I played tennis, I wanted a life beyond competing.

Were these just excuses?  Not everyone has the talent and perseverance to be a champion.  I took my tennis to the next to top level, but didn’t have the disposition and attitude to reach the next rung.

I always felt I had potential.  I still feel I have potential, it’s just that now I’m seventy-one-years old.  I’ve come to terms more with my strengths and weaknesses.

So I’ll continue as a B+ kind of person, doing pretty well at what I undertake.  I’ll keep learning and improving.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll become an A- kind of geezer.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Mystery Writer's Christmas Wish

Some people view mystery novels as dealing with a gruesome topic: murder. I view mystery novels as holding hope for overcoming adversity and that justice can prevail. But the justice needs to be based upon the crime committed, not lead to an arbitrary act of retribution against someone who doesn’t believe the way we do or who looks different. With all the hate and violence in the world today, my Christmas wish is that we can all embrace the basic message of our various religions to act on love not hate.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Fear and Punching the Monster in the Nose

There exists a fine line between fear and worry.  Worry tends to be the first manifestation of fear.  When I wake up at four in the morning worrying, what am I afraid of?  Not getting my next book published?  Making a fool of myself?

It’s always helpful to go through a sequence of what is the worst that could happen.  What if I don’t complete my manuscript?  Then I won’t be submitting it to the publisher.  Then what?  It won’t get published. Then what?  I’ll have to finish it and submit it to another publisher. Oh.

Some fears are grounded.  Having a gun pointed at you, being in a lightning storm, seeing an out-of-control car careening toward you on the highway provoke legitimate fear.  Other forms of fear are anticipatory or imaginary.  Anticipatory fears, the realm of worry, can be addressed through planning.

The secret is to take the necessary steps and then detach.  Rather than being fearful about my manuscript, I do everything that I can to produce quality results.  But if the publisher goes out of business, this is beyond my control.  I do my best and then need to detach from the outcome.

When our kids were very young and had bad dreams about monsters, I told them to talk to the monster.  Tell the monster that I was going to come punch it in the nose.

We’d all like to have someone who can punch our own personal monsters in the nose.  I’ll have to remember that the next time I wake up at four in the morning.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


I am and always have been a worrier.  As a child, I worried about everything.  My mom gave me a wooden worry-bird which I kept on the dresser in my bedroom.  It’s purpose was to worry for me so I wouldn’t have to.

As a teenager, I became a good but not great tennis player.  What held me back was my mental attitude.  I’d be playing well and then would start worrying.  What if my serve fell apart?  What if I started missing forehand shots down the line?  Sure enough, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It takes me a long time to make decisions.  I look at each side of the issue and worry about the consequences.  Then after I make a decision, I worry if I made the right one.

The only positive part about being a worrier is that it turned me into a good planner.  I’ve always been able to anticipate problems, think through alternatives and come up with contingency plans.

As a kid, I was always attracted to Mad magazine.  What greater appeal that Alfred E. Neuman and his, “What me worry?”  I envied that attitude.

Now that I’m older, I’ve tempered my worrying during the day.  But my worries still accumulate at night, and I’ll pop awake with my mind going a mile-a-minute about all kinds of problems. 

It would sure be nice it that darned worry-bird just did its job.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


We are always under some form of stress so the secret is to find the right balance.  Too little stress leads to boredom and too much stress leads to health problems.

A wake up call for me came when I suffered a heart attack two years ago. Although I had a healthy diet and was doing the right things, it snuck up on me. As I lay in the ICU recovering, I realized I had overcommitted and was trying to do too many things, leading to stress. I made the decision to pull back to a reasonable number of activities..

It’s important to practice letting go and taking a break.  One of the big de-stress activities for me is exercise.  I’m a lot less stressed if I can get out for a workout, followed by a hot shower.  This resets my mental engine by giving me a break to enjoy the outdoors before I have to resume dealing with everyday problems.

Other important elements of dealing with stress for me include being around people I care about, laughing and focusing on the positive aspects of life.

The bottom line: stress is always there.  I just need to use it as a positive force without letting it control me.  I have to remember to take a deep breath, look at the scenery, then get back to the task at hand.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


As a kid I had asthma and got sick all the time.  Then I took up tennis and played competitively through college.  After graduating, I kept exercising regularly and adapted to social tennis on a periodic basis.  Then I discovered platform tennis, and after being diagnosed with arthritis in my left hip, I converted over to platform tennis as my favorite sport. Now that we’ve moved to Southern California, I’m playing pickleball.

As I got older, I became more religious about getting a workout.  I do something every day.  Sure, I miss once in awhile, but it’s about the same order-of-magnitude as days where I miss a meal or a night’s sleep.

Why be so fanatical about exercise?  Because it keeps me healthy in body and mind.

When not playing racquet/paddle sports, I enjoy walking. And once in a while I play golf, but I’m not into extreme and extended workouts. 

Everyone needs to find what works for them regarding frequency, duration and type of exercise. 

I’m more healthy now than when I was a kid.   A regular workout also helps keep me loose and prevents the arthritis from getting worse.  And on Thanksgiving after I've exercised, I don't have to worry about eating a large meal.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Reading is something I look forward to as a reward when I get my writing, errands and other activities completed.  After a hard day, curling up with a good novel before going to sleep seems to complete the day. 

I read both fiction and non-fiction with at least one of each going at any time.  Non-fiction is for reading in the living room and fiction in the bedroom.

I used to read late into the night, but now I often get sleepy after a few pages and fall asleep.  This can also happen when I’m in my easy chair and I doze off in the middle of a page.

Some is physical in that I’m tired at the end of a busy day.  Some is the material.  A really exciting novel keeps me awake if I’m not completely exhausted.

In the last fifteen years I’ve been listening to audio books when driving in the car by myself.  I “read” about fifteen books a year this way.  I primarily listen to fiction and find it a very effective way to pass the time such as when in a traffic jam.  Rather than fidgeting, I can enjoy the hunt for a murderer, spy or kidnapped heiress.   And now I don’t get upset when driving behind people who don’t move when the light changes, who disrupt traffic while talking on cell phones or who block a lane when they should be merging.  Rather than getting impatient, I now sit back, relax and listen to the novel.  Hey, if it takes me longer to get to my destination, then I have more time to enjoy the story.

That’s much more sensible than wanting to take my aggressions out on other drivers.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Memories of My Dad on This Veterans Day

On this Veterans Day, my thoughts turn to my father. My dad, Murray Befeler, was born in New York on November 24, 1913.  He grew up first on a farm in upper New York and then in Brooklyn, the youngest of seven children.  His mother died when he was about seven and his father remarried.  He dropped out of school in about the tenth grade and lived for awhile with his brother, my Uncle Jack and his wife, my Aunt Miriam.

I never knew much about his childhood as he would never talk about it nor his Jewish heritage.  I only met my uncle and aunt in 1965 when I visited them in Brooklyn on my way back from Europe.  Later when I was in Poughkeepsie for a training class with IBM, I took the train to New York City for a visit.  Uncle Jack and Aunt  Miriam came to visit us in Long Beach in the early seventies.  I also went to Uncle Jack’s funeral in about 1983.

My dad became a photographer and moved as far away from his family as he could, first to San Francisco and then to Honolulu.  My dad had a very difficult childhood according to Uncle Jack, but I never learned any particulars.

In 1942 Murray was credited as a base correspondent through the Navy Department and served as the Honolulu bureau chief for the still photography pool and in 1943 was assigned to the army. He had his home-base in the Star Bulletin building on Bethel Street.  During the invasion of Iwo Jima my dad played a key role in the history of Joe Rosenthal’s famous flag raising photograph.   While on Guam he often sent home money he earned by staying sober during the intense nightly poker games played by the war correspondents. 

After the war was over, he started his own business, Photo Hawaii, which he ran until his death. .

In 1954 my dad went to the Pacific to do a ten-year-after-the-war photo shoot. When he returned he had a heart attack, the result of a weakened heart from having rheumatic fever as a child.  From that time on he came home in the afternoons to rest.  He was an early riser and worked mornings and often had jobs in the evening as well.  He did a lot of work for United Air Lines, Matson and the Hawaii Visitors Bureau.  He often covered arrivals of important people at the Honolulu airport.  He once took pictures of the Truman family and got a thank you letter from Margaret Truman.  He later did a lot of aerial shots of Honolulu from a helicopter.

In 1968 he had another heart attack and couldn’t come to our wedding when my wife and I were married.  He died in August of 1968.  At his funeral a huge crowd turned out to pay him tribute.  I flew his ashes out to sea in a helicopter and dropped them into the Pacific.

My dad always wanted the best for me. Because of his heart condition, he couldn’t play sports, but he watched me play tennis.  He paid my way through Stanford, but then said that was enough education, so I was on my own for my MBA.

He had very high ethical standards.  He was honest and told the truth.  One time when someone telephoned whom he didn’t want to talk to, he said to tell them he was out and he went into the yard.

He tended to be outspoken and said what he believed.

He was extremely intelligent, even though he had little formal education.  He told puns such as when viewing a lava flow saying, “isn’t that lavaly.”

My dad was a creative photographer, and I’m looking at some of his pictures on the wall as I’m writing. Last night I watched a program on PBS about Iwo Jima. I took out a book I had saved titled Immortal Images by Tedd Thomey. It quoted Joe Rosenthal about the famous flag raising photograph: “If the fact that I took this picture is important, then I deem it important to recognize the part played in the handling of it by many people. At Guam the picture-pool coordinator, Murray Befeler, had to see that my films were processed. The darkroom men had to do their job well to get good negative results. The censor had to pass the picture and Murray had to decide it was good enough to be scheduled via radiophoto, or it would have been passed over and been nothing but a piece of film.”

Thursday, November 5, 2015


A lot of my writing is about older people. Now I am becoming one of them. Throughout my life at various times, I have worried about dying.  When I was a child, fear of death kept me awake at nights. 

We all want to live a long life, but after my mom and step-dad died in the same year, I had thought more about quality-of-life versus length of life.  Both of them died in their sleep, which is the best way to go, but they had both reached a point where they were no longer enjoying being alive.

After seeing my wife’s mother struggle and finally succumb to lung cancer, it’s obvious I’d prefer to die in my sleep rather than suffer through a painful illness.

We always feel sad when someone dies young, robbed of a full life.  But it’s equally sad to see someone in a vegetative state in a nursing home who is still alive but without any mental capabilities left.

My wife and I used to joke about getting hit by a bolt of lightning together when we were eighty.  Now eighty doesn’t seem that far away anymore.

People my age think about the financial aspects of how long we will live.  Do we have enough money if we live to eighty, ninety or one hundred?  What if special care is required?

This is the crap-shoot of the aging process.  We don’t know how long we’ll last, what condition we’ll be in and what quality-of-life we can maintain.

So death remains the inevitable outcome with the uncertainty of how and when.

The old adage of living each day as if it were the last still applies.  “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.”  Life is a precious gift and I need to stop, “smell the roses” and appreciate what I’ve got.  With death as “the great equalizer,” life still remains our own special opportunity to live, love, give and be present.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


Aging is part of our human predicament.  At first we want to be older: to be able to stay up past ten o’clock, to get a driver’s license, to vote, to buy a drink, to rent a car.

Then suddenly our perspective changes.  Whoa.  I don’t want to be thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy.

I recently looked back over each of my decade milestones.  When I turned ten I was in fifth grade, having just suffered the indignity of being required to wear shoes to school in Honolulu.  I celebrated by twentieth birthday in France in the middle of an adventure, learning another language, experiencing a different culture, exploring new ideas, starting to discover what I was about.  At thirty I was immersed in a career, married with a four-year old son.  Forty found me having achieved some success in business and about to leave a large company for my first foray into the world of start-ups.  At fifty I was struggling through a bad work situation (about to get fired), had acquired a daughter-in-law and was soon facing an empty nest.  At sixty I was a grandfather, dealing with the issues of my aging parents, settled in at work and looking forward to retiring. At seventy, I was retired, had survived a heart attack and continued to enjoy writing and giving talks.

Birthdays used to be a big deal.  But when I turned sixty, my wife was in Los Angeles selling her mom’s house, so I celebrated alone, fixing a TV dinner.  Just another day.

Recently I reread parts of a journal I had kept in the 1980s and early 1990s.  Two things struck me.  How things were different now and how things were the same.

My core being is the same as when I was younger, and I’m still grappling with the same issues: self-consciousness, fears, relationships, attitudes and deciding what I want to be when I grow up.  Yet so much has changed.  I’ve mellowed and don’t get as uptight as I used to.  I go with the flow more now.  I guess you could say that’s part of maturing.

But I still picture myself as a young person.  It’s just that I’m trapped in an aging body.

I’m now more aware of the next steps, having dealt with the issues of placing my mom and stepfather in retirement then care homes and having faced the death of both parents.

My thoughts now are focused on our three-month-old grandson and our kids and other grandchildren.
Every era has its advantages and disadvantages.  As my stepfather used to say, “Getting old isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but it’s better than the alternative.”

Thursday, October 22, 2015


My thought for today. Many different forms of love exist:  romantic love, love of a child, love for mankind.  The one common denominator is a caring that goes beyond the self.  Love involves opening the self, not restraining the loved one, and demonstrates compassion, joy and equanimity so neither the self nor the loved one is placed on a pedestal, but the relationship comes first.  The duality of love demonstrates individual and shared elements; one doesn’t have to give up the self for the shared experience of love.

As parents we take pride in our children, but also need to set limits.  Part of each individual’s development requires learning about both potential and limits.  Tough love dictates knowing when to say, “no.”  As adults we have a base of experience that the child has not yet developed.  We want our children to grow, learn and mature, but boundaries are necessary.  If a child doesn’t yet understand the danger of running into a street, we must provide restrictions until the child internalizes the distinction between running in the yard and running in the street.  The line to walk involves giving the child room to test, explore and learn within a safety net.

The biggest challenge in romantic love is the boundary between my way and your way.  In any relationship there will always be conflict.  I want to watch television and you want to play bridge.  The test of a strong relationship is how these conflicts are resolved.  If I feel I have to “win” I’ve lost sight of the relationship.  Love involves give and take and seeking a common ground for “us” not “me.”

A commitment to the relationship provides the motivation to resolve conflict.  Commitment becomes the key to a lasting relationship.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Research for a Mystery Novel

My first historical mystery novel, Murder on the Switzerland Trail, will be published by Five Star, part of Gale/Cengage Learning, next week. Here’s a brief preview: A Sunday excursion in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado, in 1919 leads to murder as intertwined lives play out a mystery on the Switzerland Trail railroad. Policeman Harry McBride must figure out who the murderer is before the train reaches the Boulder station on the return trip.

One of the delights in writing a historical mystery was the research. At the time I wrote the novel, I lived in Boulder, Colorado, and with a group of friends I hiked the publicly available sections of what had once been the railroad bed. This entailed visiting spots such as this part of the trail in Caribou Ranch.



And this scene near Glacier Lake.



I also read the definitive book on the history of railroad, Switzerland Trail of America, by Forest Crossen. Next, I went to the Carnegie Branch of the Boulder Library to read newspapers from 1918 and 1919. Once the librarian trained me to use the microfilm machine, I scanned through old issues of the Boulder Daily Camera to read articles about world events, local activities and advertisements.  I learned that the Northern Gas and Drilling Company offered shares at only fifteen cents each, requiring only five cents down. And local color: “Fat man’s race: first, Clyde Church, second C. C. Poundstone, (the timekeeper fell asleep.)”

All in all, this was an enjoyable exercise and provided a wealth of background information for writing the novel.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


What are your goals?  To achieve goals one must utilize strengths and overcome weaknesses.  If you can’t eliminate a weakness, team with someone who has complementary strengths, e.g., a deaf person can work with a person with good hearing.

With a goal in mind, then action plans can be put in place.  An entrepreneur is someone with a single-minded goal in business.  To succeed someone must have this concentration and drive.  In an organization one can eliminate people and get the “right” ones or develop the people there to build a strong organization.  The issue is always one of getting the right peg in the right hole or changing the shape of the peg to fit the hole.

As a writer, I set goals, which has allowed me to complete ten published novels with more in the queue. I think it’s always worthwhile to ask what do I want to accomplish?

And as an aside, I still wonder what I will be when I grow up.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Strengths and Weaknesses

Some thoughts I jotted down:

Nature - what we are

Potential - what we can become

Strengths - key capabilities that can be enhanced

Weaknesses - what we must struggle with

Weaknesses can either be overcome or accepted.  We must understand and deal with what can and can’t be changed.  Example: a blind person shouldn’t keep trying to see.  What is necessary is to accept the blindness and adjust accordingly.  But a shy person can become more outgoing, i.e., can adapt.  Issue: When should we accept the way we are versus doing something about it?

How do we deal with our own strengths and weaknesses?  Before retiring into writing when I held a day job, I set quarterly objectives with my employees, and then at the end of the quarter they did a self-assessment, and then I evaluated their performance.  At the end of the fiscal year we conducted an annual performance review, and I determined merit increases based on results.  What I found interesting was that the forms used and the inherent process focused on improving weaknesses—what deficiencies  and flaws needed to be overcome.
This is important because we all can improve.  In writing critique groups most of the feedback relates to things that don’t make sense, consistency errors and poorly worded sections.  For a novel to be readable and marketable, these things need to be fixed.

If I’m going to be a better husband, father, grandfather, pickleball player, writer what do I need to improve?

There is another side.  Strengths.  What are the things we do well that we should keep emphasizing and do even better?

I think in terms of a football analogy.  If I’m a coach, I may have a quarterback who is a good passer but a poor blocker.  Rather than focusing on improving his blocking skills, it is more productive to emphasize enhancing his passing skills.  Other positions require good blocking, but the team will benefit if the quarterback develops from a good to an excellent passer.  Focus on strengths and improve them further.

So it gets down to what’s required.  To be a better writer, I need to focus on my weaknesses because I have a lot of development to do.  In pickleball my weakness is lack of mobility because of my arthritic joints.  It doesn't pay for me to work on mobility.  I just need to accept it.  What I can do is focus on my strengths:  fast hands and good shots and continue to improve these.

So I need to keep a balance.  Overcome the weaknesses that prevent me from realizing my goals and focus on the strengths that will allow me to achieve my goals.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Take responsibility for the actions you can control.  When I had a day job before I retired into writing, I sought responsible employees who would take charge of their area and make things happen.  When a problem occurs, valued people step in to find a solution.  This contrasts to the person who says, “This isn’t mine, it’s someone else’s.”  A responsible person will say, “This isn’t my area, but I’ll help you get to the right person.”

I believe we are all responsible for making the world a better place in our sphere of influence.  This contrasts with the view that when a problem occurs some people react by saying, “This is God’s will.”  If they don’t act, they are abdicating responsibility.  Sure bad things happen, but that isn’t a reason to throw up our hands and give up.

Take responsibility for what you can influence and change.  Then you can leave the rest to God’s will.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Respond Versus React

When faced with the need to take action we can deal with it one of two ways:  First, we can react.  This is the knee-jerk, after the fact, go fix it because we let it get broken.  When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, there were all kinds of reactions, but not a planned response.

Second, response is dealing with the situation in a planned, creative way.  People anticipate and are prepared so that when action is required, resources are mobilized and ready.  An emergency can then be treated as an expected event, not a surprise.  A trained medical response team, responds rather than reacts.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Consciousness and Awareness

We can choose a goal of consciousness--being aware of the present rather than losing ourselves in the past, future or worse, just being asleep.  This means waking up to what is going on around us and not sleeping on our feet.

How often do we really notice things around us?  I always find it interesting that when I buy a new car, I suddenly notice the same brand everywhere.  When my wife was pregnant, I was amazed at all the pregnant women I saw.  But other times I don’t make the connection.  It takes that extra, motivated awareness to recognize common occurrences around us.

After a hard day of writing, I feel the pull to plop down in front of the television set and veg out.  Drugs and alcohol provide an escape for some people.  But being aware and conscious of the present is the better path.  Taking a walk in a park or along the beach helps me focus on the present by being conscious of my surroundings and aware of all around me.

But being immersed in problems poses a more difficult situation.  Part of me wants to escape, get out of there, go take a walk again, when what is being asked of me is to be conscious and aware of the situation and deal with it.

I’ve learned over the years to hang in there to get things resolved as much as I can in my sphere of influence.  I try to act on things I have control over.  If I can’t impact the situation, then I need to detach from the outcome.  But this isn’t easy.  Mentally I know this may be the needed attitude, but still I get frustrated and want to force the results I want.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Conflicting Rights

Most disagreements center around conflicting rights.  My right to play the drums versus your right for peace and quiet.  The right to smoke versus the right for a smoke-free environment.  The right to view pornography versus the right to protect our children.  The right to take your dog for a walk versus the right to have a clean poop-free trail.  The right to have a freeway built versus the right to keep a house that is in the planned path.  The right of a woman to chose abortion versus the right to protect the fetus.  The right to protect a news source versus the right to track down a criminal. 

In Hawaii, beach areas are all public property and home owners’ property lines are delineated by where the vegetation grows.  Consequently, some home owners have been growing vegetation over the sand to expand their property line and keep the public away.  The home owners want their privacy, and the beach-goers want access.

These conflicts get down to my right versus your right or the right I believe I should have versus the right you believe you should have.

So much of tension in society is the result of conflicting rights.  The rights of the Israelis versus the rights of the Palestinians to occupy certain territory; the right to protect religious expression versus the right to enforce religious beliefs.

These are the problems that are difficult to settle.  Over years people become ensconced in their positions and beliefs.  Then it becomes a personal conflict, a vendetta, my way of life versus yours.

With no easy solution the conflict escalates.

Much centers around possessions.  People want to own land which leads to my property rights versus yours.  But ultimately we are custodians not owners of land.  It was already here.

It’s only if we can take a wider view that issues of conflicting rights can be solved.  Moving beyond my right versus your right to our rights, requires finding a solutions that embraces the broader interest of both parties.  It’s a shame that so often there has to be an external enemy to get people to come together.  Maybe some day we can learn that the real external enemy is our inability to see ourselves as one.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Using My Left Hand

Two months ago when we moved from Colorado to California, I suffered a hand infection (cellulitis) and for a week kept my right hand elevated while IV antibiotics were administrated. During this time I didn’t do any writing, but I checked email and sent messages. I suddenly learned to do things left handed. As an example I operated my computer mouse with my left hand. At first this felt unnatural, and I couldn’t keep the cursor in the correct spot, but with practice I became almost as proficient as with my right hand. Now that I’m fully recovered, I’ve continued to use the mouse left handed. Who says older people can’t change?


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Motivation and Procrastination

For me motivation is an inner engine that doesn’t let me procrastinate.  I have a strong work ethic and want to get things done before I play.  My mode of operation is to get job-related activities and chores done first and then reward myself with free time to relax and read.

This is good in that I get things done and have completed numerous manuscripts as a writer because of it.  The problem is that sometimes I don’t get to the relaxing part.  The other issue is that I get compulsive.  My project-orientation gets carried away and I find myself “doing” more than “being.”

But I do procrastinate about things that involve confrontation.  After awhile though, my inner engine keeps reminding me to resolve the outstanding issue, so reluctantly I get up the courage to take care of what I need to do.  I also procrastinate about things I don’t feel competent in doing, like fixing the sprinklers and other plumbing projects.

So what motivates me?  First, to take care of my responsibilities.  Once I accept a responsibility, I want to complete it and not leave it hanging.  Second, to do a good job.  I take pride in my accomplishments and want to make a positive contribution.  Third, getting pushed around by “shoulds.”  I should be a good writer, husband, father, grandfather.  Fourth, fear that I don’t want to look incompetent.  So a mix of positive and negative motivation.

I can be very disciplined in carrying out my responsibilities.  I regularly exercise, take care of my writing projects and follow though on my commitments.

For me the challenge is to draw the line between discipline and compulsiveness.  My discipline can get consumed in preparing for the future rather than living the moment.  I run the risk of losing sight of the people when focused on my projects.

In the busy-i-ness of daily activity, I need to learn to stop, take a deep breath and notice the beauty and life around me.

Learn from the past.

Plan for the future.

Live the present.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Impermanence and Attachment

When something gives me pleasure, I want it to last.  Yet the universe marches inevitably toward entropy and chaos.  Material objects fall apart, people age and die, relationships change.

I may experience something and say to myself, I wish this moment would last forever.  But moments move on and so do I.

I may cherish a five year old child, but that child grows into a teenager and then young adult.  It doesn’t mean that the child is better or worse, just developing and transforming.

I often feel a pull toward the status quo, things I’m used to.  I don’t want the hassle of adapting to something new.  This way has always worked.  Why change now?  If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Yet as I age, circumstances change and I’m faced with the realization of a universe of impermanence.

How do I react?  Do I cling to the past, relish “the good old days,” pine for something that no longer exists or do I move on?

We can become prisoners of the past, and we can be so attached to objects or people that we are over-protective and fear-ridden.

There was a man who loved his valuable stamp collection.  He spent hours working with it, adding new stamps.  Then he became concerned about how valuable it was.  He considered getting a lock box at his local bank but worried that the bank might be robbed.  He thought about hiring guards to protect his stamps, but feared the guards might turn and steal from him.  He installed an elaborate security system and barricaded his home.  Then he became afraid to leave his house because someone might try to break in.  He woke up every morning in turmoil and raced down to his den to verify that his stamp collection was still in his wall safe.  Then he became fearful of even taking it out of the safe.  He was so attached to protecting his stamps that he never looked at them and never gained any pleasure from them again.

Compare this to a person who has few possessions but is free to go and enjoy whatever he wants.

Attachments tie us down and limit our freedom to move.  If we get chained to things or tied to the status quo, we lose our vitality and ability to live life.  We’re locked in the past instead of living now and enjoying the impermanence of the moment. 

So I need to remind myself to rejoice in change.  Embrace it instead of mourning the loss of something that no longer exists.  And I think I’ll continue to collect memories instead of stamps.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Rabbits and Being Present

In the rush-rush of daily living, I find it very easy to get completely absorbed in the minutia of planning for the next meeting or fretting about something unsaid in the last phone call.  I often find that I’m ping-ponging back and forth between the past (things that have happened) and the future (getting ready or anticipating what will happen) while completely missing the present.

While in Orange County, California on a business trip a number of years ago, I tried to focus more on the moment.  As I walked both mornings, I concentrated on being there rather than planning things for the day or regurgitating what had already transpired.  And what did I discover?


In the neighborhood behind the hotel, I spotted two rabbits hopping across the street.  They came to rest to nibble the grass of a well-groomed lawn.  One black rabbit and a gray one.  As the superstition goes, don’t let a black rabbit cross your path because you might pay attention.  A block later I spotted another four rabbits, sitting in a yard.  I came to a nursery and found over thirty rabbits of various sizes, shapes and colors luxuriating on a well-nibbled lawn.  The next street had half-a-dozen dog kennels, right there in the middle of a residential area.

I noticed crows sitting on power lines, felt a gentle breeze ripple across my bare arms, smelled the aroma of bacon being cooked, heard the chirping of birds amidst the periodic barking of dogs from the kennels.

It was exhilarating to be present on my walk.  So much to see, hear, feel, smell.  How unusual.  Rather than being consumed in the thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow, it was a joy to be there in the moment.

Instead of being locked into recordings playing in my head about “What I should be doing,” or “What if?” or “I forgot to do. . .” I was paying attention to what was going on around me.  My feet were moving, I was breathing deeply and I was alive.

No big exciting event, no epiphany, just the calm realization that it was good to be there, being me at that moment in time.

The typical problem is that I get wrapped up in the busy-i-ness of daily activities and writing projects and am not aware of what goes on around me.  I experienced this over forty years ago when we lived in Southern California.  I was driving along the freeway one winter morning and felt strange.  Something was different.  Then I realized I could see the mountains!  Mount Wilson with a cap of snow appeared in the distance.  It was one of those rare clear days, and I could see over the whole Los Angeles basin.  At first I was disoriented.  I had become conditioned to the tunnel vision of not being able to see beyond the usual layer of smog.  I was awed by the visibility of this unusually clear day.

This pattern is repeated over and over again.  Our field of vision is narrowed to the point that we don’t see what is going on around us, don’t feel the presence of others, don’t venture out of our cocoons.

Open your eyes, ears and other senses to the possibilities of the moment.  And you’ll see the rabbits. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Golden Rule

It’s called the Golden Rule because it’s valuable and something we can measure ourselves by.  But what does it really mean when someone says, “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you?”

This way it’s usually stated isn’t quite correct.  How would a masochist act in interpreting, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”  He’d hurt someone because that’s what he’d like done to himself.

The true meaning is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  Consequently, it needs to be restated as, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you if you were in their circumstances.”  It’s not what you want, but what the other person needs.  If someone is lonely, offer friendship.

It is universal.  That’s why it appears in so many different religious traditions.

The problem in the world is that we’re all so wrapped up in our own wants (our frame of reference) that we don’t pay attention to the needs of those around us.  By reaching out, we move beyond our own closed system of daily problems and can benefit from the giving.

But for me, I forget this with my busy life, packed agenda, overbooked schedule, writing projects and book promotion.  I have to be aware of not being consumed in the “doing” of daily life and miss the people around me.

That’s why it’s worthwhile to stop, take a deep breath, look around and remember the Golden Rule.  It’s a benchmark we can measure ourselves against and an ethical standard for a more fulfilling life.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Prayer: I've Got a Branch

For me, prayer is an affirmation and expression of thankfulness, not a petition. 

When I was in elementary school, we attended a chapel service once a week.  I remember sitting in the auditorium listening to Reverend Rewick, singing hymns and generally not paying much attention.  From all those hours there, I remember one story.

A man fell off a cliff and as he tumbled down he began to pray.  “Dear God,” he beseeched.  “Help me.  I don’t want to die.  I promise to be a good person and not do anything bad again.”

He continued to fall and his prayer became more fervent.  “Dear God, please save me.  I’ll do anything you ask.”

He still fell and as the ground got closer he pleaded again, “Please help me, God.  I’ll dedicate my life to your service.”

Eight feet before being dashed against rocks, he saw a branch.  His arm shot out, he grabbed the branch and came to a stop a foot from the ground.  He gasped for breath, then said, “That’s okay, God, I’ve got a branch.”

I know that I ask for help in the difficult times and then cruise along mindlessly when times are good.  Like taking good health for granted.

We used to do a grace at dinner which was the most basic of prayers.  We held hands and said together, “Thank you.”

At its core, prayer is this affirmation, a thanks for life and all we’ve been given.

Sometimes before going to sleep I’ll say a prayer.  It’s a simple mantra.

“Dear God, thank you for everything you’ve done for me.  Give me the strength to do what’s right and to love those around me.”

That says it all.  The only other thing I could add is not “thanks for the fish,” but  “thanks for the branch.”

Thursday, July 16, 2015


My wife and I have just gone through a major change by moving from Colorado to Southern California. Many friends have asked why we moved into a drought area. Simple reason. Our daughter has had her first child, and we’ve moved nearby to help with child care. This will be our first grandchild that we will be close to in geography from day one.

My writing has been on hiatus with all the preparation for the move, the move itself and then all the action items of settling in. This process became more complex when I was hospitalized immediately upon our arrival in California with a hand infection and two weeks of IV antibiotic treatment. I’ve bounced back, and we’re getting acclimatized.

On the positive side, we have a new grandson and everyone is healthy and doing well.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

People, Projects and the Tinderbox

I’ve always been a project person.  I get involved and consumed in a variety of activities:  work, sports, hiking, snowshoeing, writing, teaching, collecting shells.  I’m not one to sit around relaxing.  After a few quiet minutes I jump up to work on a project.  There’s a good part to this.  I get a lot done, but I can overdo it.  It’s only in recent years that I’ve learned to relax more on weekends, taking a break to read a book by the pool or catch a nap.

There is a golden mean, a balance between frenzy and sloth.  There’s a time to charge ahead and a time to take a break.

Another dimension is that I tend to get absorbed in the project at hand and lose sight of the human touch, focusing more on the activity than the people I’m with.

When my kids and I were in Indian Guides and Indian Princesses, a father/kid program (which seems to no longer be politically correct) sponsored by the YMCA, I heard two stories that hit home.  Every year in May we had the Spring Pow Wow, a gathering at the YMCA of the Rockies camp in Estes Park.  Over a weekend we swam, played miniature golf, bowled, rode horses, fished, had a campfire and hiked.  On Sunday morning the leader held a brief service from which I remember two relevant stories.

First, was a discussion about the Cat Steven’s song, “The Cat’s in the Cradle.”  This song relates the story of a father who was too busy to spend time with his son.  When the son grows up, he’s too busy to spend time with his father.  The punch line: “He grew up to be just like me.”  For us A-type personalities the message was clear.  Make the effort to spend quality time with your kids.

Second, the leader told the story of the Tinderbox:  Two Indian braves were chosen to compete to become the next chief of the tribe.  Each was given a tinderbox with an ember and told to scale the distant sacred mountain and light a fire at the top.  The first to succeed would become the new chief.

They charged off.  Half way up the mountain, the first brave came to an old man shivering beside a pile of wood.  “Please help me light my fire so I won’t freeze to death,” the old man begged.

The Indian brave looked at the old man with disdain.  “I have no time for that,” he said.  “I have to get to the top of the mountain to become chief.”  So he left the old man huddled in the cold.

Moments later the second brave came upon the old man.  “Please help me light my fire,” the old man pleaded.

The second brave could see the first brave climbing up ahead.  He knew that if he stopped, he’d surely lose the race and not become chief.  He looked back at the old man shivering in the cold and knew that he couldn’t leave him there to freeze to death.  So he took the ember out of his tinderbox and used it to start a fire for the old man.  Once the fire was going briskly, he removed a fresh ember and put it in his tinderbox.  He knew it was futile, but he continued up the mountain.

Down below the people watched and waited.  Suddenly, a fire appeared on the top of the sacred mountain.  It was the fire from the second brave.

The first brave had reached the top first, but when he went to light a fire, his ember had burned out.  The second brave arrived later, but his new ember was still glowing.  He lit a fire and became chief.

Remember the human element and take the time to replenish your embers.