Winning, Losing, and How You Play the Game

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“It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game!”  Uh huh.  Ten out to ten people polled have heard that expression.  Zero out of ten believe it!  The expression makes sense existentially, but it doesn’t jive with the western yardstick.  Winners take the trophy, the ring, the money.  Losers take the agony of defeat, the shame, and the debt.  No one hits the singles scene on a Saturday night looking for a loser.  No one interviews candidates for a job position hoping for less than a “winning” hire.  Stats are easy to digest, easy to access and to use in the making of decisions about a person’s value.  Is judging a life really that simple?

Winning is glamorous, glorious, and more importantly ephemeral.  Losing too has no set anchor in perpetuity.  How many “rags to riches” stories have we heard?  How many “lost it all” stories follow?  If we’ve spent time on top, we know it feels good.  If we’ve lived long enough to feel our position threatened by time, rising challengers, or failing health, we know the true essence of being a “winner.” That essence is fleeting.  

Losing is ass!  It feels like the world is crashing in around us and that as the weight bears down our strength wanes.  If we’ve spent time on the bottom, we know it is the shits.  We feel trapped, desperate, and we question our self-worth.  The human spirit, however, is a resilient force, and so most often we lift, we reach, we find the strength to rise.  Most of us have had our time of doubt, our time of loss, and somehow we’ve overcome.  If we’ve lived long enough to feel our circumstance changed by effort, patience and time, we know the true essence of being a “loser.”  That essence is one of painful, but passing misery.  

So it is that the measure of a life well lived may ultimately comes down to “how we play the game.”  Of the three concepts, it is the only one that escapes the temporal trap of the ephemeral.  How we play the game isn’t about moments, win or lose.  It is an ethos.  No one can truly count on a continuing steady state of outcome from either a “winner” or a “loser”.   We can only count on those for whom we have respect based on their philosophy concerning “how to play the game.”  I’ve been on top, which is fantastic.  I’ve bottomed out, which is the shits.  I’ve stood on the podium, then fallen to the poor house, only to rise again.  The same ethics and approach lead to each more and less desirable destination.  Why?  Because, and I’m guessing here, that’s the game!  

Trophies often become paperweights or doorstops.  Failures many times lead to stories of the rise of a phoenix. These are moments in time of victory or loss are fleeting states in a short, though sometimes seemingly endless tale that will ultimately vanish with our passing.  So it is that the wisdom of “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game,” comes into focus.  Unlike winning or losing, consistency of mind, fortitude, and focus on a life well lived escape the transitory black hole of “results.”  And unlike titles, these qualities cannot be taken from us.  More importantly, they are ever-present, awake and alive, truly defining each of us as the people we are every moment of our lives.

Freestyle

1970s High School Dance (4)

“Freestyle,” now there’s a vocab jack in the box bursting with “what the hell!”  The term Freestyle can be ascribed to a variant version of almost anything we humans do. Let’s say for the purposes of this rant that “freestyle” means “acting in the absence of rules or generally accepted protocol.” Now that’s a relief unless one happens to be a rule hugger, in which case it would, of course, be disconcerting.

In a valiant effort to save my marriage, I agreed to sign up for ballroom dance lessons. For context, up to that point in my life dancing had not been numbered among my strong suits. Relying on a glaring weakness to change the course of a dissolving marriage may not have been putting my best foot forward, ha, but I donned those creepy felt soled dance slipper shoe things and gave it my best.

Ballroom dance presented me with a calculus problem that, as it turns out I was ill-suited to solve, graphing calculator, youtube videos and hours of practice notwithstanding. I guess I’m a freestyle guy. I put in the effort though. I really did. However, the combination of regimented movement and rules left me shaking my head. Apparently, the head is not the right part of the body to be shaking in the genre. All that effort and money bore a shallow harvest, and that’s putting it politely.

Freestyle dancing is a natural gift that all humans, and many pets (see youtube) have at their disposal for the purpose of celebration. Freestyle skiing emerged when lovers of the sport found that the sanctioned practices of those “judging” the events did not fit their natural outpouring of self-expression while rocketing downhill on two snow supported slabs of glass/metal composite. Freestyle poetry, and then rap found the stage when traditional structure could not contain the expression of writers who needed undefined space to share their ideas. So it is that many of the constructs we as a culture use to define excellence have been bent or broken by a new wave of creators who have stretched a newly expanding canvas for the work of self-expression.

Let’s break it down.

Free: definition
Not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes.

style: definition
A manner of doing something.

According to the combined definition: Freestyling is basically the outcome of deciding to do one’s own thing, regardless of the established norm. Freestyle expression in the aforementioned genres has survived and thrived long enough that they are now considered “established.” Once accepted, they too are subject to judgment. People enter “freestyle competitions!” Oxymoron?

I can distinctly remember “freestyle dancing” in the basement of St. Paul’s Catholic Church at an 8th-grade dance. I was dressed like an ass thanks to my complete lack of fashion sense. I was all in, having a blast. It wasn’t until the girl I was dancing with; I had used all my human courage credits to ask her, commented that I had a very “unique” style that I realized I was a pioneer. This 14-year-old Betty was making fun of me. She danced away to the next song with a football player, and that was that. Oh, judgment! For years I thought about it every time I danced sober, but unlike the dances that came soon after that incident, now I smile.

These days I freestyle in my living room, first thing in the morning. The scent of brewing coffee wafting through the house, glass of salt water and lemon in hand, tribal drums blasting over the Spotify airwaves, I dance, white boy freestyle. Sure, Beyonce won’t be tapping me for her next tour, but fuck it, why not let my awkward dance flag fly? I’m free!

Old Friends

UCSB boys 2Left to right: Steve Van Beek, Kevin Farenkopf, Paul Escoll, Dr. David Gyepes, Your’s Truly, Andy Logan, & Daryl Landy.  (c.2001)

These days most things can be had with the well-ordered strike of a few keystrokes.  They usually arrive within seconds digitally or a few days by truck, perhaps a week if there are shipping complications.  Jobs can be found, romance born, business relationships forged in the ether of our modern internet biome.  All these ‘friends,’ ‘likes,’ ‘followers’ add up to…Something I suppose.  However, no thing or connection that can be had so immediately compares with the feeling of finding oneself in the company of old friends.

Enduring relationships are created and perpetuated via the practices of patience, commitment, forgiveness, and a healthy dose of introspection.  Old friends know us, often better than we know ourselves.  They watch us break, and aid us when they are able in the process of picking up the pieces.  They share our triumphs and offer a shoulder when we need a place to lean.  

If you have old friends, you are blessed.  If you have lost touch with someone you once held dear our modern world offers ample opportunity to reconnect.  Few things on the average to do list can provide such reward.  Some say that real connection is a dying art.  Fortunately other say that history is cyclical.  Wherever you find yourself on this wheel of life I wish you peace, love, and enduring friendships.  In the words of Clarence the Angel, “No man is a failure who has friends.”

My Last Dime

Last Dime 2                             

Let’s say I’m down to my last dime?  Let’s also say that I have to make that dime go as far as I can seeing as it represents the totality of my remaining financial resources.  What would I buy?  Not much probably, seeing as a dime doesn’t go as far as it used to.  I’m not even sure I could buy a gumball with a dime today.  So here I am down to my last dime.  Let’s also say that you too are down to your last dime.  Are you anxious? Scared?  Or are you exhilarated, confident, sure that you can turn that dime into a fortune?  If you’re the latter, I’ll be wanting some of the magic dust you’ve been huffing.  I’d also be curious to know how, with such confidence and aplomb, you came to have a total net worth of ten cents.  But I digress.  

Back to our predicament, or at least to me, it would undoubtedly feel predicament-ish.  Do you have a safety net…family with means, friends, standing by to catch you if you fall, people who care?  If so perhaps being down to your last dime is difficult for your pride or ego, but not a threat to your health or safety.  If that is the case then ‘lucky you.’  Let’s say for the sake of argument that I have a safety net too, puts us on an even footing as we walk this road of destitution.  But if we both have a safety net, I submit that we’re not truly down to our last dime.  We have the social circumstance of connectedness which we may very likely take for granted day to day.   However, that to which we may give little thought, that which seems ‘normal’ to us… is not normal for everyone.  If you don’t believe me spend a few minutes researching “poverty” on the internet…wow!

How does one determine the value of a safety net?  Unless one actually ‘falls’ the net may as well not exist.  Without a slip, a stumble, mistake, calamity, wrong turn, poor choice, bad luck… you get the picture, a safety net is conceptual,. It’s an idea.  Does having it help you sleep better at night?  I never thought about mine until now…now that I’m down to my last dime… suddenly it’s all I can think about.  How grateful I am that people care enough about me to reach out to catch me should I fall.  

Back to the notion of “normal.”  What if our ‘normal’ was “safety-net-free”?  What if this was indeed the last dime.  What if by some twist of fate we were falling through the cracks, and no one noticed?  How would that last dime feel between your fingers?  How would the world around you look as you held it?  How would you spend that last dime?  Would you find yourself entering a shop meekly asking the clerk to change your dime for ten pennies?  Would you find a wishing well?  Would you stand there and earnestly make ten consecutive wishes that somehow you would be saved from this fate before you walked away to sleep under a bridge that night?  I might!

Parents

Mom dad me

Parents!  If you’re lucky enough to still have them around, excellent!   If they can on occasion be challenging, that’s not uncommon; look who’s talking.  If you think they did a less than perfect job of playing god to you and your siblings if you have the pleasure of sisters or brothers, you’re possibly right…they’re only human for fuck’s sake.  

For the longest time, I held my parents responsible for crimes against humanity.  Humanity, consisting primarily of me.  Not everyone is so fortunate to experience the “victim/narcissist” posture that I somehow adopted at an early age, but some of you may be able to identify what I’m talking about.  Ugh, so embarrassing!  Anyway, my folks were young when they got into the kid-having business, and they set out to do their best, whatever that means.  

We all do our best right?  No, we don’t all do our best, a topic for another time.  However, if we do our best, well done us!  That, in my opinion, is how we give ourselves the best odds at getting through this monkey parade in one piece.  To my youthful affronted mind though “my parents best” was less than acceptable.  Precious snowflake boy? Or perhaps, ungrateful asshole?  You decide.

These days I am a parent.  Actually, I’m on the downhill side of the child-rearing experience with two healthy, happy-ish teenage sons.  I love my role and have learned a great deal about what my parents must have faced during their “adventure in child rearing.”  Unfortunately, like my parents, I found that my wedding vows could not withstand the weight of the union itself.  Thus, I’m deunionised, or as we say in the vernacular “divorced.”  I’m a single parent 182.5 days a year; the best 182.5 days of any given year I might add.  Raising kids is like most experiences I’ve encountered.  Attitude is everything!

Being married is work, work that unfortunately does not always bring to bear the fruit of one’s labor.  Circumstances as they turned out to be I’ve come to realize that I have not always been the best reader of the more subtle aspects of certain human personalities.  I do believe that I hear and see people clearly when ‘they speak their truth’ and glean the essence of who they are, perhaps more so than they themselves at times.  Ego talk? Probably.   Though if my relationships with my sons, friends, colleagues, etc. are any indication, and if I’m not wholly deluding myself, it’s possibly true.  Still, I have a lot to learn yet about how to be my best.  As for my misread on the choice of life partners?  Romance seems to be my kryptonite, also a topic for another post.

I bring up marriage only because the majority of parenting is done, or at least initially undertaken in that construct.  All of the great, and not so great parts of a marriage inform the parenting of the children in a family.  What relational skills do we unwittingly gift our progeny as they bear witness to our matrimonial dance?  Could we have done better?  Certainly.  The adage about living in a glass house while hoisting stones comes to mind again and again.  No blaming or finger pointing here.

Back to my parents.  They worked hard, or at least my pops did.  On top of that burden, they had to figure out how to raise kids; manual not included.  Dad provided us (sisters not pictured above because they were still a twinkle in the old man’s eye when the shutter snapped) with way more than anyone had a right to expect.  To put it mildly, we never wanted for the basics.  Dad delivered grand family vacations, money for college, and bailed us out when our youthful dances included gross missteps.  My father was extremely driven and excelled in a high-stress profession his entire life.  The intensity must have been nearly unbearable.  Reflecting on his situation as an adult, I can’t imagine how he handled the pressure.  No wonder things weren’t always Lavender bouquets and yoga mats around the house.  

My father and I are different people, to put it mildly, with decidedly different relational needs.  We didn’t see eye to eye on much during my childhood.  It’s no one’s fault, just how that particular cookie crumbled.  In school, work or social life situations, one can choose to step away from relationships of that nature, but in the confines of the family structure, we just have to make the best of the hand as it is dealt.  We didn’t get to choose each other or browse the “Family Relationship” version of Match.com before we committed to a life together.  So it goes.

In my twenties, I moved away from my hometown.  I left with the hope of escaping my stuckness, neighborhoods with six homes to an acre, traffic, and my roadblocked relationship with my family.  With all my possessions in a subcompact car, I journeyed across the country in search of the life I’d always felt I was meant to live.  “Wherever you go, there you are” notwithstanding it ultimately worked.  My life and my sons’ lives are good, whole, full of love, mutual respect, and acceptance.  Phew!  

By moving away, and thereby breaking the cycle, I was able to discover that a new relationship with myself and my parents was attainable through the grace afforded by distance.  Distance allows perspective.  Perspective provides the chance for healing.  Healing allows courage to blossom.  Courage creates the possibility of change.  Change creates the opportunity for forgiveness.  Forgiveness is a universal gift.  

Becoming a parent affords one an opportunity to experience the disruptive effect of ripples on the pond into which the Narcissus in all of us gaze.  It offers a moment for those of us who have not yet discovered selflessness to awaken, and so be humbled.  Parenthood provides the chance to accept, atone, forgive, and appreciate those whom we may formerly have held in some form of blame.  

I love you, mom and dad!  I now see clearly that you did the very best you could.  Your hearts, not mine were in the right place, and for that, I am eternally grateful. 

The Crushing

The Crush rev2

Sometimes things feel so spot on, so figured out.  Other times things feel so fucked!  Honesty is both beautiful and ugly, so here we go.  Glass half full, glass half empty, glass whatever until shit hits the fan.  You’ve had a bad day right?  You’ve had some good ones too?  I’ve had both and can unequivocally offer my opinion of the difference between them; I don’t dig the darkness.  It’s easy for me to be up when I’m fortunate enough to awaken on the right side of the bed, if something truly wonderful has happened in my life, or if I have an audience to entertain.  It’s also easy for me to find the shadows when the hall is empty, or the vicissitudes of fate choose a game of random misery.

Spirit, soul, perspective, blow with the wind when no one is looking.  We’ve all likely found darkness shrouding our path at some point.  We’ve also probably been fortunate enough to know lightness.  I experience both in a relatively favorable measure, but today it is the darkness that accompanies me as I make my way.  Odd that a life I feel to be so fortunate should seem so dismal at this moment.  History tells me it will pass.  And thank god!  A funny expression emanating my lips “Thank god,” as I do not currently ascribe to conventional western religious doctrine.  Still, I feel it, the meaning of “Thank god,” balls to bones because I have faith.  Faith not in books, nor figureheads, but in “It!”  The “It” that binds us all together in this life.

How are your dark days?  Mine are daunting.  Sometimes I feel fearful in my solitude.  Afraid that I will fail those I love.  Worried that I will fail me!  Ha, shouldn’t I have included myself in the numbers of the former?  How will I fail?  By not showing up, not delivering the promise of optimism and perseverance to which I have committed?

Depression is the antichrist to hopeful endeavor, and some days when I feel it’s weight bearing down on me I find no solace, no sense of possibility for escape.  For context, I do not suffer from the type of debilitating depression that some struggle with.  Fortune smiles on my brain chemistry in that regard.  I am talking about run of the mill, “get over yourself” feelings of depression.  The emotional state one simply has to face, and vanquish.

It is to a great extent the way in our culture to have ears only for, “Fine” or “Great thanks,” in response to the question, “How are you?”  Who has time for the real answer right?  To avoid pariah status, when I find my soul cloaked in crushing darkness I lie, “Doing well, thanks.  You?”  Perhaps being born in the United States where the concept of “Rugged Individualism” is a historical cornerstone, this automatic response is coded into my DNA.  Though from what I’ve read, Rugged Individualism is a walk in the park relative to the DNA encoding that the English have saddled themselves with!  Interestingly, my genealogy leads in no small way to that tight-lipped isle of rain-soaked woe.  Not super surprising that an occasional down day should find me.

Today I listened to a Tim Ferris Show podcast featuring the renowned psychologist Jack Kornfield.  Jack’s career began in the jungles of Thailand where in his twenties while serving with the peace corp he decided to become a Buddhist monk.  As he explained, it was a painful but enlightening (pun intended) journey that lead him to new perspectives on self, self-hatred, and self-love, compassion, and empathy.  I bring this up because his words struck me hard.  Hard as in repeated blows of a mighty love hammer.  Multiple times while listening I spontaneously began to weep.  Something in his message hit trigger points over and over again.  This experience crescendoed during his closing comments which left me clutching my heart, crying full voice on the futon in the family room.  Futon?  What am I, a college student?  Whatever!

Jack’s wisdom and his message of loving-kindness (insert “snowflake quip here) touched me deeply.  It afforded me a window through which I saw metaphorical rays of sunlight.  The darkness that had enveloped me for the last few days seemed to cower and then diminish.  Tim’s conversation with Jack somehow pierced the black veil of my personal manifestation of Rugged Individualism.  It reminded me that we are not, or do not have to choose to remain alone in our struggles.  Jack’s words reasserted the possibility of choosing to breach the norm of, “I’m fine.”  The chance to reach for connection, and more importantly offer connection, with compassion to those we find wrapped in the solitary binds of darkness.

If you struggle alone with your demons, you can share that burden.  You have options.  Check out Jack’s thoughts on the subject via the link provided below.  Write a comment.  Please share your story.  Together we are strong enough to shed light on the darkness.  Together we can create brilliance!

Tim Ferriss Show: Jack Kornfield episode:

 

 

 

Epitaph

Head stone Color V2

“Here lies a salty bastard.”

“Here lies a saint.”

“Here lies a damn liar!”  Fitting!

How would you like to be remembered?  What would you like those who have a say in the matter to inscribe of your tombstone?  Not to say that you’re plans aren’t to be cremated and strewn about the globe, headstone free, but please, go with me on this slightly morbid journey if you will.

This world is rich with people who naturally behave in a thoughtful, loving way toward others. This same world is also replete with people who if called out might have a hard time justifying some or much of their behavior to a jury.  Sadly, I fall in with the latter category.  I’m no Joseph Stalin, but I have my bad days.

I’ve often thought about a scenario wherein our lives are constantly recorded on video and available for public review and judgment.  Oh, how our behavior might change if every action was up for scrutiny, evaluation, and infinite replay?  I started pondering this circumstance long before the advent of social media mind you.  The difference being that we wouldn’t have the option of posting only content featuring our “best selves.”

We’ve all seen the gal showing off what she’s got on Instagram.  Bless her by the way. We’ve seen the cat-poster post posters and have also had to endure the politics-troll assholes.  They all have their platform for self-expression and/or self-aggrandizement, which is fine I suppose.  However, not one of them, or more accurately, not one of us, have to expose any truth deemed unflattering because we, of course, are our own censors.  This arrangement is great for the “self-image,” but is it good for the “self?”  Accountability, thanks to the one-way mirror of social media, seems to be on the ropes in these modern times.  For most of us, the whole truth isn’t usually “runway ready” so we omit the bits that don’t flatter us.  Me too, guilty!  The first seven drafts of this post were a shit show.  I was not about to unveil that incomprehensible crap to the world!  Frankly, the jury is still out about this version but my self-imposed deadline wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

The words used for an epitaph, if true and heartfelt, bear witness to the whole, uncensored life-print left by the dearly departed.  What is our legacy?  How do we touch the world?  Now, answer that question again discounting any “touch” involving social media.  Interesting, no?

I’m not fond of the idea of being caught in the act of being me twenty-four-seven.  Do I want the world watching me while I lose my temper, ghost some woman I’ve met on tinder, or expel the results of a stomach bug in my not so recently cleaned bathroom?  Not at fucking all!  Do I think we should submit to the control of a “watcher regime” that exposes our every act to society for judgment?  In no way, shape or form.  Do I believe the world would be a better place if we all imagined ourselves being observed, and therefore felt compelled to take just a tiny moment to consider the outcome of our behavior before we let loose?  Hell yeah I do!

Our every earthly action leads logically to our last, after which we are but a memory.  Some believe in a judgment day.  Some believe it is their job to judge others.  Perhaps if we focus appropriate, (read: “a lot of”) attention on accessing and adjusting our own actions before they are unleashed, we could spare both the almighty and the armchair critics a load of work.

Though I wouldn’t complain about, “Here lies a salty bastard” as an epitaph, in fact, I would get a good posthumous kick out of it.  I would hope that those words might be followed by something to the effect of, “who did his best to love well, to make the world a tiny bit less hateful and who will be missed.”  How would you like your epitaph to read?

 

Social Decorum And The Horse It Rode In On

Table manners bwThis random thought began as a journal note in 2014. 

Table manners.  Ah yes!  A tiny window view into the vast array of merit badge earning opportunities awaiting on the shoulder-sash of parenthood.

My youngest son is hyperactive…seriously!  I’ve been told that during his toddler years, when he was scheduled to attend mother’s day out the staff added an extra person just to handle him.  Ha, that’s my boy.  Nowadays he can often be seen orbiting the table while we enjoy family dinner, which at my choosing we share every night.  It appears he came into this world with a wicked case of the “can’t-be-stills!”  I could force him to sit…but why?  Will he turn out to be a better citizen if I make him do so?  Will he feel it’s okay to be him if I force him to “not be him?”  Will any of us digest our meal more healthfully, or feel the world has been made a better place if I declare martial law at the dinner table?  Probably not.  However, at times, while chewing my food, seated within the gyroscopic whirl of his dining room orbit I do hear distant murmurs of a disapproving throng.

“Can’t you control that kid?”

“That walking about is not proper dinner time behavior!”

“Have the decency to teach the boy some manners!”

As though having trouble staying seated while masticating will lead directly to the unraveling of the social fabric of our entire culture.

As a nod to Emily Post and her followers,  I have explained to my son that some people will expect the use of traditional, “proper” manners and that table-orbiting may not be considered acceptable in the homes of his friends.  He gets it.  He has managed to avoid becoming “that kid in the principal’s office” at school, etc.  When required, he’s capable of masterful-ish self-control.  Perhaps the best way to look at manners is in context.   Are our opinions about the matter based on childhood experience?  If so they are traditional, possibly passed down through multiple generations.  Yes, these specific rules of behavior have been taught, but are they still supremely relevant?  The doctrine of a flat Earth was too once widely taught.  Do these lessons still hold their weight in the face of scientific, or in this case cultural evolution?

With that view in mind, one has to decide the goal, and more importantly the ultimate impact of one’s parental decisions.  I find that after deconstructing most etiquette protocol and running it through the, “Does this rule truly make the world a better place” test, flexibility and acceptance usually win the day.  Because really, are we here to “control” children, or help them flourish?  I know which answer sits, or doesn’t sit (pardon the pun) best with me.  I’m not advocating mannerlessness.  I’ve taught my boys every social rule and regulation that I’ve ever learned.  They are aware of and able to adhere to social decorum protocol at will.  Afterall, knowing the rules is a perfect starting point on the road to doing the right thing, staying out of trouble, and for those of you who remember high school, avoiding embarrassment.

Long after we are gone, our children will unconsciously run their lives on the operating systems we’ve implanted in them.  Our decisions about how to handle their youthful “behavior issues” will have shaped more than those teaching “moments.”  That is why I let the kid orbit the table at dinner time.  And no, I don’t let him do laps at Thanksgiving with the extended family.  Even I have my limits.  There are times and places for rules to be followed, and at least in my universe, times and places for their bending.  Most adults unconsciously carry childhood memories of being brought to heel over issues of manners or rules.  How the lessons were “taught” matters, even decades later.  The cumulative effect of an upbringing may leave one with a deep-seated sense of self-acceptance, ambivalence or shame.  I know which perspective I’d like to see shaping the future of this world.  I bet you do too.

 

Do you have a similar experience to relate?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!

Life Is Short-ish

sunrise

The blush of daylight at dawn

A cold shower

Long slow breaths, taken with purpose 

A moment to see that on most any spectrum things could be better or worse

Gratitude offered, because this small act is always within our power