A Few Lessons More

I can’t believe it. Fifty days have passed by, and I have completed my quest: 50 days writing 500 words per day.

I started doing this for a few reasons. One is that I wanted a challenge. My physical health has not been good for a number of years, and I was starting to think that I would never be a productive member of society again.

Well, I may not be that productive, but I have managed to put down a few thoughts. This has felt pretty good. If I have been able to entertain you in the process, I consider it a job well done.

The other is that I intend to write in the new year. Not just a few hundred words a day. I’ve got a novel in mind. Two, actually.

One popped into my head one day. From nowhere, I had what I thought was a very exciting climax to a fantasy novel. I thought the scene was so good that I wanted to discover what the story was that led to that point.

I’ve been unraveling it, but it is more than I know how to do. At the moment. I’ve written a number of other (pretty good) scenes, but the scope of the story is expanding.

I need to put it on a shelf until I know a bit more.

The other idea is one that has kicked around in my head for a very long time. In fact, it has been there since I first heard the poem “Jack and Jill went up the hill”. At the time, I remember thinking why did they go up the hill in the first place? 

I think I need to find out, so that’s what’s up for me in 2017.

In the meantime, I’ll probably keep posting pretty regular on this blog. I like the quickness of it. The regularity. The habit. It stretches my mind just a bit each time.

I’m grateful for the small lessons I’ve learned, as I’ve written to a deadline for the last 50 days. Granted, the deadline was flexible – anytime before bed – but it was a deadline nonetheless.

I was thinking of a few other lessons that these last fifty days have taught me. Here are a few more.

Write It Fast. I used to equate speed with poor quality. As if I could only put down words that were difficult to write. I no longer believe this to be true. In fact, some of my best work has happened when I had no time, no energy, and could barely stay awake.

Don’t Try To Please People Too Much. This is a tough one, for me. I’m a people pleaser. I would wonder what if my Mom / pastor / friend from the third grade / Uncle Albert would read this? Would she / he be upset? What if I curse a bit? Will I be shunned?

I’d actually look forward to an old fashioned shunning. It sounds so … ominous.

I am slowly getting over this, but it’s hard. My ways of thinking have had 50 years to lay down very powerful neural pathways. I’ve been doing my best to create new ones.

Write Alot. A couple of years ago, I wrote in a contest called the National Novel Writing Month, an annual contest to complete a 50,000 word manuscript in the month of November.

I discovered that I could write a lot in a short period of time; however, I didn’t write consistently, and I never created a habit of writing. This time around, I wrote less per day, but I wrote every day.

I trust that I have created a new habit. Which is good. I am woefully lacking in the willpower department. A habit wouldn’t require much willpower.

Find My Voice. All the writing manuals talk about finding your own voice. I’m not sure if I’ve gotten there, yet. I used to think that I was destined to write funny stuff. I’ve always gravitated towards the funny.

When I look back at my writing, though, I find that I was a lot more serious than I expected. With maybe a bit of humour to lighten things up.

I will need to continue writing to find out what my voice really is.

I have come to the conclusion, though, that I do have a voice. That what I say and think matters. This isn’t because I’m some genius. Or gifted. Or special. It’s just that, in all of history, there’s never been another me.

I have a completely unique outlook on life. As do you. I’m the only me around. My choice to communicate that me is through telling stories.

We all choose to embrace that inner person or not. In the past, I’ve not felt that my inner person is of any consequence. That I’m somehow not worthy of all the wonderful things I’ve experienced in life: love, family, the beauty of the South Saskatchewan.

I’ve changed my mind. A little bit, at least. I’m trying hard to cut myself some slack, like I would for anyone else but me. I think doing this challenge has helped me do that.

Just a little.

A work in progress, if you will.

This has been the start of a new journey, for me. In some ways, a small toehold for me to start my crawl from the abyss. To let my eyes adjust to the darkness. To climb towards daylight.

I’m excited about my journey, and I thank you for being around for the start of it.

5 Lessons I’ve Learned From Writing

I’m coming to the end of my commitment of writing 50 consecutive blog posts for 500 words or more. I’m not sure if I’m happy or sad about that.

I would say, though, that I have learned a few lessons about writing. And maybe life.

Get Started. I have a number of bad habits. One is procrastination. The other is putting things off. I decided that I would just get going and let things happen as they will.

I tried not to censor myself, meaning that I wouldn’t rewrite or try for anything close to perfection. I wanted to leave things a little raw, This was effective, and it made it easier to just sit down and do it.

I also found that there was power in just getting started. Not that I’d advise it, but if you look back, you will see that there were times when I had nothing. I wrote anyway.

I found that I would find inspiration just by being in motion. So, I write and then (sometimes) become inspired. It seems like the old cart and horse thing, but it really works.

Stick To It. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the saying that mastery takes 10,000 hours of preparation and work. If so, I have a very long way to go. Still, the only way to get better at writing – or anything – is to do it. Doing it badly is the price to pay for doing it better.

Get started and stick with it. I have written over 25,000 words in the last 50ish days. This is 25,000 more than I would have written by doing nothing or stopping after the first day.

Have Fun. If writing isn’t your thing, you might be thinking that this has been a difficult thing for me. And you would be partly right. There were certainly days when I just wanted to fall into bed.

I’d write anyway. And, once I started, I had a good time doing it. Nearly every time.

I figure that if I’m not having fun doing it, I should probably go back to watching Gunsmoke reruns on Netflix.

Get Over Your Fear Of Rejection. Uh oh. This is a tough one, for me. In the first place, I’m a people pleaser, so I don’t like to let people down. Secondly, I have a thin skin and fragile ego. Third, I sometimes think that I’m smart, and I don’t want to write and appear dumb.

All fears that have been unfounded.

Instead of ripping into my occasional really bad writing, you have all been very supportive of me. Don’t think I didn’t notice.

I wonder if, as a people, we worry too much about what other people will think of us when, in reality, they aren’t really thinking of us at all.

Make It Easy To Read. Since this is online, one way to do this is to use short sentences, short words, and lots of white space.

When I started, I wrote like I usually do, with lots of words in a paragraph. Just looking at it is a little daunting. A sea of text on an ocean of white. Now I try to keep paragraphs to a couple of sentences. Short sentences.

Even fragments.

There are a few other things I’ve learned, but I’ll save them for tomorrow.

Ready, Fire, Aim

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them”.
Henry David Thoreau

It’s rare for me to draw a blank. I can usually think on my feet. Some say I have a  gift for story.

Other’s say I’m full of it. Story, I assume is what they mean.

Tonight, though, it feels like I’ve got nothing. Nada. Zip.

I suppose I could just keep on writing about nothing. Hey, it worked out OK for Jerry Seinfeld. “It’s a show about nothing,” says George Costanza.

“Why would anyone watch it?”

“Because it’s on television.”

“Not yet it isn’t.”

Now it feels like I’m just putting down anything to get started. Almost like I’m feeling that if I can just get enough words out, something good will happen.

I’m not sure. Let’s just say that I’m not holding my breath.

Still, good things can happen when you just say what the heck, let’s do it. For example, JFK. Kennedy decided that America would put a man on the moon before 1970. Depending on who you believe, American astronauts walked on the moon in 1969.

Either that or they walked on the surface of a secret sound stage in LA. Either way, it was pretty cool.

I wish I had a bit more go-with-the-flow, but I prefer Ready-Aim-Fire. The problem is, though, that I usually stop at Aim. I get ready. Then I aim. And aim. And aim.

And never really get around to the firing part.

With this blog post series, I’ve been trying to get over myself. I’ve been trying to just put the work in, post it, and see what happens. So far, I haven’t died. This is progress, because some of this stuff has been – let’s be honest with each other – less than ideal.

I’ve been trying out the Ready-Fire-Aim approach.

This is a bit like Wilbur and Orville Wright. The Wright brothers were not aircraft people. Or engineers. They were, in fact, bicycle and small engine mechanics. While other companies worked on developing more powerful engines, the Wrights used what they already knew.

Bicycles were unstable, and so were airplanes. The key to the bicycle was in controlling the balance. They applied what they knew to airplanes. Their system of controls of fixed wing aircraft are basically in use today.

But they started out with no skills or expertise in the aircraft field. They started anyway.

I find myself admiring people who just get started. Don’t get me wrong. I think there is a place for research and deliberation. It’s just that I have a tendency to remain there.

I need to get used to the firing part of the equation.

I saw a show on military snipers. When they are getting ready for a competition, they fire a number of test shots. They have a spotter. The spotter says “You’re about 50cms left.”

The shooter adjust the sights and fires again. And again until the bullets fire into the target. If they simply spent all their time getting ready and aiming, they would never hit the target.

Or anything, really.

My dad always said that a ship in motion is easier to maneuver than one that is sitting still.  I think this is good advice for me, so I plan to take a shot. Even if I don’t quite know how to get started.

I can always adjust my aim later.

Strumming My Pain On A Regular Basis

I am coming to the end of my fifty days of writing blog posts. Coming to the end, I realize that I never really asked myself why I should put myself through this in the first place.

I had a number of reasons (I think). The first – and main – reason is that I wanted to create a writing habit. There’s a saying that goes something like we create our habits, and then our habits create us.

I want to have a writing habit. I’ve got some plans, down the road, and I need to get in shape for them.

To create any kind of habit, I think you need to do something on a very regular basis. Daily is ideal. Being who I am, though, I often think that I’m not doing enough. I should have a loftier goal than just 500 words per day* is one mantra that runs through my head.

This leads to the same type of resolution that causes people to buy expensive memberships in gyms in January. They get involved with fitness having the best intentions, but their energy wanes and they quit.

I suspect there are a few reasons for this. One is that they don’t make fitness a habit. They go faithfully for a week. Or maybe two. But then life gets in the way, and they begin to go tomorrow.

The other, I think, is that people try to do too much early on. “I’m so out of shape. So I’m going to do an hour on the treadmill. Then I’ll lift weights for another 45 minutes. Then I’ll have one of those gross protein drinks and maybe play a little Ultimate Frisbee.”

The next day they can’t move. Will power can only do so much, no matter how strong that will is.

Instead of making a simple goal, like “I’ll just lace up my runners and walk for 10 minutes every day for the next 30 days”, people buy a Schwarzeneggerian workout and try to follow it.

Too hard. Too much for a beginner.

I didn’t want to make those mistakes. I decided that I would only commit to writing for a specific period of time: 50 days. I also picked a reasonable goal for each day: 500 words.

I can always quit after the 50 days, I told myself.

500 words may seem like a lot, if you are not writing regularly, but it is a fairly simple task for me. It’s not like in Grade 10, when I had to write 1500 words for Mr Yadlowski, and it seemed like it would take seven weeks to do it.

It’s pretty straightforward. It just takes three things: making the time, sitting my butt in the chair, and writing. Sometimes I add thinking, but only if I’m feeling a bit pretentious.

And something funny happened on the way to the forum: writing has become a habit. At least, it must be a habit, because I’ve been doing in spite of having all kinds of excuses not to do it: I haven’t had the time, I haven’t had the will, the energy or the drive, and I’ve been slowly killing myself in my own basement.

I write every day – just a little bit – and I now find that I want to write every day.

I’d say that my simple, too-easy formula has paid off.

Now, as they say, the real work can begin.

*500 words per day is 182,500 words in a year. About two regular length novels. Not like a Dan Brown epic, but more like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Content At Christmas

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas …

I woke up to snow, and I am OK with that. I would actually be happy to not have to shovel at all, this winter, but the snow definitely made it feel a little more “Christmasy”.

Our Christmas day was a busy one. Bird in the slow cooker and elbow grease in the basement. We cleaned and tidied and arranged and set up and cooked. What seemed like an easy day – after a lot of tough ones – actually turned out to be busier than we anticipated. Still, we were able to get everything useful and ready for family.

It’s still surprising, sometimes, how happy I feel when our “children” come over. Yes, it’s Christmas, and that changes perspectives; still, I always look forward to having our house full, again.

I’m lucky that way.

It was pretty low key. We ate, talked, and laughed. We played Taboo and laughed some more at how ridiculous we were. The later it got, the more we laughed.

Laughing is good. Christmasy.

I got some great gifts: a hand made cup that I’ll use for my morning tea, a deck of cards to help break through writer’s block, and a book with 642 challenging ideas for very short stories to write.

It seems like maybe my family is nudging me in a particular direction. A little caffeine and get to work.

I already wrote about how lucky I am, so I won’t bore you by repeating it, but I am feeling especially fortunate tonight. Tomorrow we meet again, eat, and head to grandma’s house. For more eating and laughing.

There seems to be a theme developing that includes laughter and an ever-stretching stomach.

It’s true that our Christmases have changed over the years. When the boys were younger, presents were very important. When you don’t have many things, each thing gains in importance. Musical instruments, video games and other items were well received.

Times are changing. As they have hit adulthood,  their tastes have changed. They are collecting their own stuff. The wide eyed excitement at what may lie in the wrapped box is not as great as it was. Instead, it has been replaced by how useful or thoughtful the gift.

This, I think, is as it should be. We grow. We change. These things are reflected in how we give and receive gifts.

And what do Sue and I give each other for Christmas? Well, this year we gave each other a (nearly) finished basement. Which cost a heck of a lot more than the simple gifts we used to get for each other.

Time will tell whether or not we made a wise decision.

I truly didn’t need to receive a single gift to feel fortunate today. While I may not have the comparative wealth of some of my fellow Canadians, I am overly blessed with friends, family and love.

Fortunate indeed.

Tomorrow will be an unusual day: no work. That’s right. Other than making a meal, there will be no cleaning. No tidying. No moving of things.

No dust. Hallelujah! No dust. I can’t believe how good that feels.

As you can see, I have no deep thoughts, tonight. I am simply feeling grateful, happy, and content.

 

Counting My Christmas Blessings

It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m not really feeling the Christmas spirit.

I’ve been so caught up with getting our basement to the point of being usable – the kids are home tomorrow – that Christmas has kind of crept up on me.

I haven’t been a particularly jolly old soul, the last few days. In fact, I’ve been pretty ornery. Pushing too hard. Trying to get too much done. Not getting sleep.

If you are so inclined, you needn’t feel sorry for me. These are all first-world problems. Many people don’t even have a house, let alone are able to renovate the basement of it.

So I’m taking a few moments now to think about how good I really have it.

As mentioned, I have a home. This dwelling has sheltered us for the last eighteen years or so. It has seen my children grow from boys into men. It has seen joy and tears, happiness and sorrow.

It has seen our lives unfold, and it continues to shelter us from the elements.

I also have access to more food than I need. As my wife works for a world-wide relief and service organization, I am intimately acquainted with how rare this is. Billions of people are going to bed hungry tonight.

I agonize over whether to have a piece of fruit or a pepperoni stick.

I have all the modern conveniences: washer / dryer, dishwasher, fridge, freezer, and stove. In a pinch, I can pop food into a microwave and – miraculously – it is warm in a few seconds.

Netflix is a click away.

I have central heating that works – most of the time. I don’t have to spend my time searching for firewood or burning dry dung. This device works so well that the only time I notice it is when it stops working.

And I don’t have to worry about clean water. According to the UN water report, 780 million people don’t have access to clean water. 2.4 billion (with a B) don’t have adequate sanitation.

I can turn on a tap and drink clean water. I can hop in the shower as many times a day as I like. Errrr … human waste is easily disposed of.

I often think that I am not particularly well off. I’ve made many financial mistakes, over the years. That’s if I compare myself to my fellow Canadians. Canada being one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

If I think about it, though, I am incredibly well off:

  1. $3200US makes me wealthier than 50% of the world’s population
  2. $70,000US puts me in the top 10% in the world
  3. Having a net worth of between $10,000 and $100,000 makes me wealthier than nearly 5 billion people on this planet

These of course, are only the material things in my life. I am also blessed with good friends, like you. I know that if times get tough, I have people who will care for me and about me. People who will laugh and cry with me. Who will hold my hand, if needed, or kick me in the pants. Also, if needed.

And I have my family. My boys have grown into good men. In turn, they have attracted wonderful women into their lives. And, in turn, into mine. My life has been greatly enriched by these great additions to our family.

Of course, I have Sue. Sue and I have been through it all, and we’re still standing.

Together.

Nearly 30 years ago – we married at age 5 – we made vows to each other:

For better, for worse.
For richer, for poorer.
In sickness and in health.

The thing is, we, like most, I suspect, really thought:

For better, for richer, and in health.

For a good part of our lives together, it has been the opposite for me. Yet, through it all, Sue and my kids have loved me in spite of my shortcomings and issues.

This, my friends, is God’s grace lived out here on earth.

And so, on this Christmas Eve, it’s finally beginning to feel like Christmas. I am, after all, incredibly fortunate to be here.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

The Mark Of A Man

Oh man, it is late. We’ve burned through the midnight oil and started on tomorrow’s reserves.

The flooring guys came late, today, which pushed back work that we had planned to get completed in a timely manner. These things were completed, if you consider working until 1am timely.

I dragged myself up the stairs, cleaned myself up a bit and prepared to fall into bed.

Then I remembered that I had to write. I confess that I started to swear, and my swearing was punctuated by profanities.

My mother would not be pleased.

Still, I made a deal to write 500 words per day. They don’t have to be good words. They don’t have to be intelligent. They don’t even have to make sense.

I made a deal – with you and with me – that I’d get them written before I hit the hay. Or the sack. Call it a night. Grab some z’s. Get some shuteye.

Hit the hay.

Funny how we have all kinds of different words to describe the same thing.

OK, now I’ve got to focus. Got to get some words down … huh, I almost said on paper. I don’t really write on paper, much. Just lists and stuff.

My dad was teacher, back in the day when handwriting was, in his words, “the mark of a man”. I agreed that writing was indeed the mark of a man. Or woman. Writing is making marks.

He didn’t find me humorous, either.

My penmanship left – and leaves – a lot to be desired. You basically need the Rosetta Stone to decipher what I’ve scrawled onto paper.

This, apparently, was not the mark of a man.

So, when I would get home from school – from school! – I would get to spend another half hour at home, writing properly.

I hated those times. I found absolutely no pleasure in forming the letters properly. As my writing improved, I still detested that task. Especially as I had spent the day doing scholarly stuff.

So I would write neatly and nicely during my half hour, and then scrawl everything else. What  a rebel I was. That was sure showing … someone?

I found one of my old exercise books. Aptly named, I might add, as it felt like exercise to do it. And not the good kind.

My writing was actually pretty good. I tried to copy it, just for fun. Nope. It’s gone. If I take my time, I can still write legibly, but that is the best you could say about it.

I heard that cursive – hand writing – is no longer required in schools. While I might briefly think something like “Well, there’s another thing they don’t do, which is why the world is going to hell in a handbasket”, I am perfectly fine with it disappearing from school.

When I started writing on a keyboard, it took a long time to learn how to do it. I would often hand write my stuff and then type it up later. Sort of like adding up columns of numbers and checking it with a calculator.

Once I figured it out, though, my handwriting days were through. Yes, I maybe miss the connection that I had to the written word, but at least now I can read what I’ve written.

Which, in the case of this post, may not be the best thing.

Good night.

To Swear Or Not To Swear, That Is A Question

My Mom is not big on swearing. Not the oath-taking type, although Mennonites are against that, too. Cursing. Blaspheming. Uttering profanities.

In my entire life, I’ve never heard my Mom swear.

Growing up in a pretty traditional Mennonite household, swearing was one of those things that was forbidden. Along with cards and gambling. And gossiping … if the person was around to hear it.

I remember going to church one Sunday morning. This was not unusual. There would have to have been a catastrophe not to go to church. Not just a snow storm; the worst snow storm. Ever. Not a downpour; an ark-worthy flood.

I am talking something of Biblical proportions.

So a three day rain was no excuse. We piled in the old Mercury and headed off.

My brother was driving. For some reason, he was thinking that some of the side roads would be in better shape than the main grids.

He was wrong.

We hit some deep mud, the car started fishtailing, and, in slow motion, we slid into the ditch.

As we were going in, my brother yelled, “Shit!”

I know that shit hardly qualifies as a curse word or profanity. I came of age in the 80s, so I know all the words.

Shit ranks pretty low on all lists.

Plus, of all the available swears, it is the one deemed most acceptable by the Mennonite church. Well, maybe not officially, but it is not unusual to hear a Mennonite, after, say, hitting his thumb with a hammer, to yell Sheise!*

This is shit in German. German is the language that God speaks, so swearing is acceptable if using divine language. Nearly.

Since cursing is frowned upon – yet everyone (except my mother, apparently) really needs to use those words from time to time – Mennonites have come up with unusual terms to circumvent the law.

One very popular one is dousand! This word literally means thousand, which is why Schwarzenegger always said it in all his 80s action movies.  It all depends how you say it, I guess.

If dousand is bad, dievel is worse. You can probably guess that this means devil. I’m not sure how bad things have to be to use the devil’s name in vain, but it’s nice to know that it’s there when needed.

So, we’re sliding into the ditch, and my brother yells “Shit!” Not even in Low German, which might have constituted mitigating circumstances when he is judged at the Pearly Gates.

We hit the ditch and stopped. It was very quiet in the car. Well, who wouldn’t be shocked by such a vulgar display.

My Mom paused a moment, and then said, “Now … was that language really necessary?”

It was very freeing to hit high school and learn some real cursing. Some of my friends were artists, and soon I had shed my German only swearing and took on a number of English (said like you are spitting) swears.

When we had kids, I cleaned up my act and went back to only swearing in German. Going into the ministry, however, brought my 80s mouth back on line, and I was soon swearing like a sailor.

A sailor who had to keep his mouth shut, as swearing is generally frowned upon by the clergy. In public, anyway. In private, I know quite a few potty-mouthed pastors who can’t wait to blow off a little steam about a pain in the a … rear congregant.

In German, of course.

I find that, now that I’m older, I’m starting to enjoy swearing again. It really is an art form. Perhaps I’ll become an expert. I think that it takes 10,000 hours to become a master.

Hmmm. That’s a lot of swearing. I might have to go back into the ministry.

*Low German is a dialect and not a written language; therefore, it is OK to spell words however you like.

One Shingle At A Time

I was about nine or ten when I learned one of the most important lessons of my life.

My (biological) Dad died when I was four. I just have a few flashes of happy memories with him: working the fields on the tractor, racing him from the barn to the house, and sitting on his lap and driving the car.

Yes, we start driving young, on the farm.

Mom remarried when I was nine. In those five intervening years, I pretty much ran wild and was as productive as a gnat. I was a spoiled little brat, and I didn’t have a clue what work really was.

This all changed with my step father.

My Dad believed that hard work was our salvation. That we were put on this earth to work. That the most important verse in the Bible was “By the sweat of your brow shall ye eat.”

You can imagine that my religion was fundamentally opposed to his.

When you are nine, however, your options for freedom are limited to what adults will allow you. My options became very limited.

I still remember the first time that I really learned what work was and how to do it. We had a number of buildings on our farmyard. One of these went by the name “The Big Garage”.

We called it this because it was bigger than the “Little Garage”.

The Big Garage was in need of a hip replacement. Hip roof, that is. Mom and Dad went up on the roof early one morning and started removing shingles. This was the mid 70s, so worry about rain did not enter into the equation.

It was the original scorched earth policy.

I watched for a while. The old shingles came off steadily and cascaded down the roof to the ground. It was sort of cool. For about five minutes. Then I lost interest and started to walk away.

“I’m glad you are here,” said Dad. “I need your help.”

This didn’t sound good to me; however, walking away from your parent, in those days, was hazardous to your health.

He crawled down the ladder and walked up to me. “We are going to burn these old shingles in the field,” he said.

This is back in the days when burning was a socially, politically, and environmentally sound way of disposing of garbage. Also fun.

“What I need you to do is take these shingles that are on the ground and put them in the stoneboat (cart). Then you can set them on fire.”

It sounded like work, but the chance to set something ablaze was very appealing. I looked at the shingles on the ground.

There were thousands. Probably – without stretching the truth in the least – at least a hundred thousand shingles.

It was impossible.

I did what I always do when I’m faced with an impossible task: nothing.

Dad looked at me with something like compassion. “Don’t you know how to work?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Pick up one shingle and put it in the cart.”

So I did. Then I looked expectantly at him.

“Now do it again.”

So I did.

“Now keep doing that until the cart is full. Then we’ll empty it, and you can start again.”

I knew I couldn’t say that moving one shingle was too hard or too much work. I had too much pride for that. So I picked up a shingle and put it in the cart. And another. And another.

I finally realized that if I grabbed two shingles, I’d be done twice as quick. Then three. Then a big jump to five. Then as many as I could carry.

Go to the pile. Grab shingles. Put them in the cart. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I did that until all one hundred and twenty six thousand three hundred and twenty seven shingles were in a big pile in the field. While I was really sore and tired, I felt really good. Dad said I had done a man’s work, which made me feel even better.

Plus I got to light the shingles on fire.

It was a long time until I realized how valuable a lesson I learned that day. No matter what the problem – no matter how seemingly insurmountable it seems – you just start by grabbing the smallest part of it and completing it. Then you do the next little bit. Keep doing it until you are done.

Rinse and repeat.

It’s really easy to get overwhelmed by life. Some days I wake up and think about all the things that I can’t do anymore. Or the things that I do less well. Or that take four times as long as they used to.

It’s easy to give up and watch Netflix. If I can’t do what I used to be able to do, what use am I?

And then I remember that lesson I learned, all those years ago; one shingle at a time, Ron, and eventually the job will be done. Start with the smallest bit and keep on going.

One shingle at a time.

Thanks for that, Dad.

Take A Deep Breath And Count To Ten

I’ve made it my life’s work not to get angry. I’ve got all sorts of techniques that work. I play mind games with myself. Usually, they work. Not today.

Today I was mad.

We had ordered flooring for our basement a while ago. We were very clear that we needed it near the beginning of this week.

The salesperson assured us that this wouldn’t be a problem. It it’s in Calgary, it’s three days. If we need to get it from Quebec, you’re looking at a nine day turn around.

He checked his computer. Well, nothing in  Calgary, but plenty of stock in Quebec. It will possibly be here by the 19th, but you can count on the 20th.

OK, we said. We like the product, the time line will work … so, here’s our deposit.

Today is the 20th.

I called to figure out when I could pick up the stuff.

Silence.

Huston, we have a problem. There were a few false starts. The salesman told a few different stories. You know … the worst kinds of stories.

Likely ones.

Then he mentioned that he had no control over when the ship would dock. Ship? I’m no geography whiz, but I do know that there is no way, by ship, to send flooring from anywhere in Quebec to Saskatchewan.

I began to get just the teensiest bit miffed. Now, I know all the signs of anger coming on. Anger has been my constant companion since I can remember. So, calmly, I asked when I could expect the flooring.

No later than Friday, he said.

Actually on Friday, or possibly some time next week, I asked. Or next year.

Silence.

I thanked him and hung up the phone. Well, clicked End. No one hangs up a phone anymore.

Fortunately, I was doing some painting. I got a lot of painting done in a very short period of time … after I called my wife to let her know.

My wife also has a fuse. When I related the tale of woe, she said “That’s unacceptable.”

Unlike passive-aggressive me, she is more the opposite: active aggressive.

In a few minutes, she had driven down to the store, talked to the salesman and worked out a deal to purchase something in stock in Edmonton. This will be delivered tomorrow.

To my house. To the basement.

They will also do the installation for half price.

This all took about 30 minutes. She said she never even raised her voice, although all the other men in the room suddenly had things to do in the back. She had simply asked what they could do to make this work.

If you use it the right way, anger can be your friend.It can motivate you to deal with injustices you may feel or see around you. I have yet to figure that part out.

Don’t get me wrong; there is something very powerful about my anger. I feel like I’m invincible and completely in the right. I think very clearly. My brain – and my tongue – are much sharper.

It’s just that I am out of control.

As I said, I have a long association with anger. To be fair to myself, I do have an older sister, so there is a lot of justification. I don’t know how many times I kicked in the screen door when it was mysteriously locked. Thanks, sis.

As a fairly helpless kid, I found that anger made me a formidable foe. It gave me power. It kept me safe.

I just didn’t like the way it happened.

I tried in vain to control it. Count to ten. Can’t, too mad to count. Take deep breaths. Can’t take any deep ones. Just shallow. Talk to someone about it.

Yeah. Right.

The point of change, for me, happened in Grade 10. A bully was bugging a friend of mine. I went to intervene. I hit the bully in the fist with my nose and sat down.

Everything went red, for a moment. Yes, I actually see red, sometimes. I saw red, and then everything went cold and icy. It was like I wandered into my brain, found the switch labeled “Humanity”, and turned it off.

I felt capable of anything.

I remember asking the guy to stay there. That I would be back. Then I walked over to the baseball field, asked to borrow a bat, and started walking back.

Luckily for all concerned, a young intern decided to walk with me to find out what I was going to do with the bat. When the bully saw me, his eyes went wide, and he ran away.

I am convinced that I would have done serious bodily harm to the person. I realized then that I had a real problem and needed to figure out how to deal with it.

Over the years, I have learned to control it. It’s never far away from me, though, and I work on it a lot. So much so that when I mention that I have a problem, people don’t believe it.

That’s because I put up with a lot of shit.

Where my wife uses her anger in a positive way, I just let mine fester. I push it down and put on a smile. If you do this often enough, you get good at hiding it. Still, it takes constant vigilance.

Plus it rots me from the inside.

So I struggle to find responsible outlets. I employ many tricks to actually calm myself. I can usually breathe, these days.

I’m getting there, but old habits are hard to change.

It’s important to me, because that’s not the person I want to be. I have no desire to be the angry old guy. Even though he’s fun to trot out, once in a while, he is like your drunk Uncle Albert at the family gathering; he says or does something that is very hard to take back.

I work at it. I can’t always control the circumstances in my life. Sometimes flooring doesn’t come in, and it feels like the salesman is lying to me (he wasn’t). Sometimes people take advantage of your good nature. Sometimes they spread gossip behind your back.

Sometimes people are jerks.

As with all things, I’m the one who gets to decide how I will react. While getting angry is my habit, I am slowly trying to replace it with patience and understanding.

Now, breathe deep. Count to ten. Oh yeah … don’t keep it inside. It will rot you if you let it.