Wednesday, January 31, 2018

On the road again

Traffic.
Ugh.
It's the worst, right?
The American Automotive Association reported that the average American spent 17,600 minutes a year driving.  Twelve days.  That's just the average.

Years go I lived in Houston, TX, the fourth largest city in America by population and a metro area bigger than New Jersey (but smaller than Massachusetts).  On a good traffic day, the commute to and from work was 45 minutes each way.  It was rarely a good traffic day.

More than once I found myself sitting in extreme heat in an extremely long line of cars; a line so long that I turned off the engine because I knew I wasn't moving for hours.  Sadly, more than once I thought to myself that there better be something up ahead to justify my wait; something like a really big accident and not some idiot making poor choices.

One day though, I recognized what I was doing.  I was wishing something bad on a stranger because I was inconvenienced.  More than a recognition, it was a realization.

I realized that traffic was preventing me from having a good day.  And, since I couldn't change the traffic, I would have to change myself.  I had to stop thinking negatively while waiting in the car.  I had to stop being frustrated by the wait,  More so, I had to do something to make it better for myself and for my fellow drivers.

I moved my harmonica into the car along with a bottle of soap bubbles.  When traffic stopped I'd tune the radio to some station playing music with space in between the notes and I'd fill them with music.  Or, if nothing was playing that I liked, I'd make my own music badly.  If the weather was good or the mood took me I'd open the sun roof and start blowing bubbles up and out.

Looking out the windows I'd see my fellow drivers looking in.  They'd be smiling or laughing or be trying to figure out what sort of lunatic was sharing the road with them.  I didn't mind the wait anymore either.  Sitting in the car was an opportunity to make today a good day.

Years later I added a red nose to my traffic kit.  I could now bring joy even when driving at normal speed.  Every stop light or stop sign I had the chance to draw out a smile or two.

Harmonicas, bubbles, and red noses aren't for everyone (but they could be for you . . have you tried?).  Anyone can find their thing though.  Your frustration may not even be traffic.

The first and second things you can do is identify your frustrations and decide that you are not going to be frustrated any longer.  Next do something about it!  The last thing thing might be trying to make whatever it is better for others.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The sound of music

"Let's start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read you begin with A-B-C
When you sing you begin with do-re-mi"

Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical "The Sound of Music" was one of the four CDs my family bought when we first acquired a CD player.  Before that my sister and I used to play the Beatles "1962-1966" (Red album) every Saturday on the turntable during chores.
As far back as I can remember there has been music in my life.  Perhaps because I moved around as a child I use Top 40 songs as markers of where and when I lived in a certain place.  Music can take us to a place in our memories in ways no other thing can.

Years later moved in with my sister and we'd sing home-made show-tunes about whatever we were doing.  When my children were little I made up bed-time songs and bath-time ditties never thinking that more than a decade later the kids would still know and sing them.  I look forward to hearing those songs sung to their children.  I'll never be a proficient singer but I don't think that's necessary for being a good singer.

In my car I keep a harmonica.  If traffic is slow or stopped I'll often take it out and play along to some random station.  Sometimes I make up my own music.  I once played the shaker egg in a band.  I may not be good but I play with FEELING!  I've futzed with guitars, pianos, and a didgeridoo without any success.  Like being a proficient singer though, I am not sure being good is a requirement for my uses.

I once saw David Bowie perform live; Tower of Power too.  Both the Houston symphony and Detroit have had programs for kids that I've taken my children to.  I've gone to jazz festivals and dive bars with kids doing their very best (poorly)  Live music with groups of people are radically different than listening to recorded music and can be amazing.

A few years ago I became a dancer at my kid's dance studio.  They needed a filler before the finale and a bunch of bad dad dancers probably set the perfect mood.  I am not going to lie, I probably enjoy it more than I should.  I also love dancing with my wife.  We don't do it often (or often enough) but going to a club and moving until we can't brings me joy.  We've tried ballroom dancing more than a few times too.  If a line dance start, you can guarantee that my wife will be one of the first people in line and I'll not be (too) far behind.  Again, being proficient doesn't mean it isn't good.

Music can be magical.  It can make any day a good one.  Music can take you away to someplace you want to be or focus you on where you are.  The music doesn't have to be great; you don't have to be great.  As long as it's good for you, it's good.

Make music
Sing songs
Listen to what you love
Go where people make it
Dance

You have a soundtrack.  It's changed over the years and will continue to evolve.  Purposefully creating it to make your "biopic" one you would want people to watch can be a big step to making today a good day.


Related music:

Friday, January 26, 2018

"Here" is a good place

I wonder where this is being read.

Are you at home?  On the couch?  In the bathroom?  At the kitchen table?
Are you at work?  Should you be paying attention to your job?  Are you in the bathroom?
Are you out and about running errands?  Are you waiting in line somewhere? 
No matter where you are . . there you are.

If it's sunny or rainy; if it's close or far from family; if it's where you want to be or not . . . where you are is where you are.  You are here.

Here is where you think good thoughts and do good things.  Here is where you smile and share and clean and teach and grow.  Here is where you cry when you need it.  Here is where you work and exercise.

The magic of here is that it's also now.  It's not "there" or "then" or "later". Here is the place that we live, day in and day out.  No matter where you go . . you are still here.  

"Here" is a place but it's also a state.  "Here" is being present to what you are doing and who you are with.  "Here" is where you are able to make today a good day.

It's good to make sure you are happy with where you are, with what you are doing.  If you're not where you want to be, it's a good time to discover why not and where that is and work on how to make that happen.

Today can be a good day no matter where you are; it will happen here.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Difficult times make for good lessons

I have some bad news
Not every day will be filled with rainbows and unicorns.

There will be times when things small and things significant will go wrong and they will make having a good day problematic.  Whether it's the dog escaping the yard or barking incessantly at the squirrels or whether it's the co-worker who won't stop talking and let you do your job, external frustrations happen.
Further, we all make mistakes and those self-driven events can contribute to making a good day worse too.  We aren't perfect at our jobs or with our friends and we screw our lives up.  Sometimes it seems our mistakes are near-catastrophic.

Have you ever noticed though, that we often learn good things about ourselves when things are hard?

We can learn how to avoid what caused the bad.
We can learn to prevent them.
We can learn to deal with them.
We can learn that we are not alone.
We can learn that they can be overcome or mitigated.

Opportunities to learn are hidden in the hard and the bad.  Looking for those lessons can make today a good (or better) day.

What makes up your bad things and struggles will be different from everyone else's and the lessons we learn will be different but the important thing is that we *look* for the lessons and take them to heart.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Bad days happen

Every day is not a good day.
Some days are so full of bad it's hard to think of anything but bad.
Some days are horribly tragic they seem to eclipse every past day and future day.

Death.
Death can make for a day apparently without goodness.  When we lose someone we knew, someone we loved; when we have a friend who's lost someone; when we hear of some celebrity or even a stranger, we know that lives have been changed.  We know that there is a community that is going to be left empty.  We know that their entire world is less bright.  We know that the grieving is just starting.  How can today be a good day without the deceased in it?

Lost love.
Lost love is almost like a little death.  A person that filled someone's heart is gone.  No matter if they're still around, there's an emptiness.  If they *are* still around, the emptiness can be even harder.  It's hard to imagine that today is a good day when you feel so alone.

Unplanned change.
When you lose a job; when you have to relocate; when life kicks you down when everything seemed to be going well . . . it sees like the world has tilted off its axis and everything is off. How can today be a good day when you don’t know what’s next?

Bad days happen.  The longer you live, the more bad days you will encounter and there is no easy answer to dealing with them.  We can look to the past for remembrances of better times and to the future for the expectation of good days but today may just be a bad day and we may just have to accept it.

Do your best.
It becomes better.
Bad days end.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Be a good ancestor

It is very likely that, if you do not already, some day you will have descendants.  You will have children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  More children will come from them and they will all be a part of you.

It's hard though, to imagine what impact you might have on those far-flung future descendants.  It's hard enough to figure out your impact on your children!  We don't even know how many of those people will know who we were.

We can assume that we won't all be monumental and have statues will be built in our memory.  We won't all discover something amazing and be immortalized in books.  We won't all be fantastically wealthy and pass down trusts.

We, however, have today to pass on.  We have the time now to make the world a better place and to leave a lasting impression that should carry forward for generations to come.  How we live our lives, striving to make today a good day, can be our greatest  legacy.  

We are not only passing this possible inheritance to our own progeny.  What we do today and how we make today a good day can and will influence all the people we deal with and could influence their family futures.

Not knowing the impact does mean that there isn't one and it doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to make that impact positive.  Not knowing means that today is the day to make sure you are doing something that has the chance of being the change that lasts lifetimes.

As we go through today, remember that our good day can have impacts that will matter long after we have gone.  Our children and their children and their children and some random children can have a better life because of choices we make today.  Do something that will make you a good ancestor.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

You are not alone

I've been working on being a better friend and cultivating more friendships.  It strikes me as an excellent way to create or improve good days.

People were not meant to be by themselves for too long.  It's fine to have "me time" alone but people are better off when they have someone to share with.  Having someone to share your successes with makes them feel more meaningful.  Having someone to share your sadness with can lighten the load you are carrying.

When you have a friend, you have someone that can make you day better; someone that can see you need a hug, or a punch, or a good talking to and provide that.  A friend can be a touchstone to keep you grounded or the catalyst to do something new.

Today is a good day to make a friend, deepen a friendship, or be a better friend.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

This year is a good year

Today you are however old you are.

You may be in your teens or your twenties or your thirties or more but this year is your year to do with what you want.

It's taken years to become all that you are.  It's taken the places you have been and the people you've encountered and things you have learned.  Here you are though; the product of choices and luck and effort.

It doesn't matter how old you are; it matters that your age is your age.  You have done things and seen things and you know what you know.  You know that there will be new things in your future (and many of the same things too) and you know that they will change who you are.

Right now though, you are your age.  You can make this year a good year by making each day a good day.  You can look back at where you were and how far you have come.  You can imagine how your decisions today will lead to amazing things.

Much like a river, you are always the same and you are ever changing but today you are who you are, where you are, and when you are.  Today you are you.

Happy belated birthday and happy early birthday!  I hope all the days in between and good ones.


Friday, January 12, 2018

You don't know the story

Every day we encounter so many people: family, friends, co-workers, consequential strangers, and the regular kind. We can never totally not know their day, their story; their ups and downs; their trials and tribulations; their hopes and dreams.

Some of those people may not know that today is a good day.  They may even be having a bad day.  Your interactions with them may be difficult; they may be troublesome; they may be irritating.  They  may contribute to making your good day . . . less so.

Situations like that provide opportunities for us to make a good (or better) day.

We can try to know those stories; to find out the why.  Sharing what is bothering a person may be enough to improve the day.  Knowing that there is someone out here who cares enough to listen can be a gift.  It's possible that we have a real solution to their problem.  Caring doesn't always require excessive effort and any effort could make a difference.

If time or place or situation (or who we are) makes it difficult for us to connect and help we can accept that we don't know their story and understand that it's not our story and doesn't have to make our day less than good.  Sometimes stepping away is the best thing we can do for ourselves.

Remember:
-Their story is not our story .  .  . and we don't have to let them take us down
-Our stories can cross  . .  . and we can work to make them better
-Our story will continue . . . and we control our story

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Plan for tomorrow's good day

“Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future..” – Yoda

We don't know what tomorrow will be like.  A calendar or a schedule and experience can give us some idea but we never know for sure what tomorrow holds.

We can, however, do things ahead of time to better the chances that tomorrow will be a good day.

I know people that make sure they can do the things that make them happy.  Routines work! For example, I know people that go to the gym daily; it brings them satisfaction that they can count on.  I know people that buy the morning newspaper from the same news-seller and I think the dialog between them is more important than the newspaper.
Once you can identify things in your life that make a day good, you can put them into your routine and know that there will be at least SOME good.

You can also have "good-day-makers" at the ready.  I own three clown noses.  One is at my office, one is at my house, and one is in my car.  Whenever I need a boost or I see someone that might need a smile . .  I put on a nose.  The day is bettered.
I also keep stamped postcards at my office and sometimes I send them to random friends.  They might be long-held friendships or new.  Real, physical mail makes a day better; both in the sending and in the receiving. Maybe your thing is a special snack: you should have those available when and where you need them.  If you have a sibling or friend that always makes you laugh, remember to call them when you need to.

You can also do traditional planning.  Knowing what you want to accomplish and how you are going to do it can make a day good by reducing all sorts of stress.  Life is easier when you don't have to rush or have too many things to do.  This sort of planning isn't for everyone but there are tools to make it easier.  Find the one that works for you and use it.

Preparing today can make tomorrow more likely to be a good day (and it can do good things for today too!).

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Any day above ground

Them: How's it going?
Me: <evaluates>
Me: Today is a good day
Them: Any day above ground is a good day
Me: <introspective thoughts>

This scene repeats itself fairly often and it always gives me pause because I don't know that the sentiment is true and I don't know how to respond.  It may be true to them . . . but it might not be and it's definitely not true for everyone.

We don't know about what comes after we die.  Most of us have beliefs about what happens but that's not the same as *knowing* and most of the beliefs are that the next place is better than what we have here in this life.  The next stage may be filled with ultimate joy or rest or knowledge. Any day below ground may be BETTER than a day above ground. 

Being above ground has it's own set of issues.  It can be full of stress or pain or unhappiness.  A day above ground might be the same as the previous day and the one before that and the next day is going to be the same too; joyless repetition.  A day above ground could include the death of a loved one.  A day above ground can include a job loss or a fight with your partner.  Being above ground does not automatically make any day a good day.

We don't know what we don't know about being below ground.  All we have is what we have today . . above ground.  That doesn't make it a good day though.  For a day above ground to be a good day it might take effort and mindfulness.  A day above ground has choices that we can make to make it good; either by our actions or by our outlook.

Them: How's it going?
Me: <evaluates>
Me: Today is a good day
Them: Any day above ground is a good day
Me: Each day is what we make it