Despite all, Humans Yearn to connect

Right now someone, somewhere is sitting down, at a table perhaps or his or her favorite chair, fingers tapping away at a computer, or scribbling away with a pen in a notebook, crafting words that will soon resonate with many people. This artist will tap into that thing that connects us all. The thing that is nameless and sightless and odorless, yet we all know it exists. That thing that binds spirits. The thing that can get perfect strangers on the same vibe. That thing that a musician somewhere, with guitar in hand, or trumpet or piano keys beneath his fingertips, will also tap into, composing the song, lyric, melody that will soon have many of us singing along, humming in unison. Somewhere an actor is memorizing lines that will soon galvanize us. Somebody, somewhere is unknown, but soon we’ll be hard pressed to recall the time when we didn’t know them. People who connect us are like that. We humans long to be connected to each other.

Yes, it’s true. As a nation, we’re divided right now. The right, the left, Hillary voters, Trump supporters. Politics divides. It always has and perhaps always will. But art, music, words on page, and yes, even tragedy, connects us. Connecting is natural. Division is not. Never has been. Those who seek to divide us do so for selfish, unnatural reasons. We naturally want to be together. That’s why babies and children get along so well. Our natural instinct as people is to come together, gravitate toward one another.

That’s why I love art and music and sports. It’s in these things that strangers think nothing of hugging or high-fiving strangers. It’s a beautiful thing. I know words in the wrong hands can sometimes serve to divide as well, but by and large, from Shakespeare to Harper Lee to King to Gladwell to every author who dare put pen to paper and finger to keyboard, the best of them, the good of them, connect us. Artists, musicians, writers simply lead us where we naturally want to go. So to that writer, that musician, that artist that unknown, whose words are yet to do what fate will soon have them do, thank you for plugging away, thank you for giving of yourself, and we thank God and Infinite Intelligence for your gift. See you soon.


Look at What My Brain Dragged In

Fourteen years ago I married my dream wife. She was a pretty lady that I’d known of since college though we’d traveled in different circles. She was the kind of girl your subconscious decided way before you did that your life would forever be incomplete unless you somehow hooked up with her on a lifetime basis. After college, we each moved to different parts of the country. But in 1999, life finally corralled the two of us into the same place at the same time. We married four years later and quickly bought our first home. A year later we had our first child.  Six years after that we welcomed our second child into the fold. Wife. House. Two boys. Other than my mom dying the year before my second son was born, tainting what had otherwise been a clean run of success, I didn’t have any complaints.

After the start of the twenty-first century, my life seemed to kick into another gear. I met and married a beautiful woman. I bought a house. I was blessed with two boys. I went back to school, earning my Master’s degree. I got a promotion at work and one year even won an employee of the year award and the $1000 bonus check and company paid expensive dinner that accompanied it. My 401K was rising steadily. My industry, insurance, seemed recession-proof, surviving the 2008 financial crisis without too much turmoil. Yes, I was in a pretty good place. If I was a smart man, I’d play the pat hand, riding the wave to retirement. And I always played the part of the smart man. All I had to do now was commit to twenty more years of service with my company, putting retirement off until my mid-to late sixties. After which, the wife and I would be able to travel whenever and wherever we wanted. And if God continued smiling on us, we’d probably have a couple of grand kids to spoil. It was a nice plan for the future. A sensible one. One that a careful planner like me had always embraced and executed. I’d grown up poor, in a town located in southeastern North Carolina that could’ve just as well been dubbed Barely Surviving, 28358, which was a long way from Beverly Hills, 90210. I didn’t like poor and I didn’t like taking any chances on landing there. But for some reason, in January of 2015 I utterly rejected the careful plan, deciding instead to jump off the cliff of careful and into the valley of uncertainty. Why? It was a question I didn’t directly address at the time.  Instead, I followed through on what I’d first threatened to do in December, 2013 when I told my wife about my intentions of quitting my job to embark on a writing career. She thought I was nuts and to prove it, she insisted that before I do such a hasty thing that I first request a leave of absence from my job and then seek therapy. I agreed to both demands.

I requested and was granted a leave of absence from my job in January of 2014 and met with a therapist for the first time ever shortly thereafter. Therapy was a strange experience for me. I wasn’t used to sharing my innermost thoughts with anyone, much less a total stranger. I told myself going in that I would try to share everything with my therapist at least from the prospective of what I thought was going on in my life at the time. As someone once said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Sharing was hard. Sharing what I didn’t know was harder. I ended up blaming everything on my job; although the job itself hadn’t changed in any dramatic fashion through the years. The pay was solid, if not spectacular. I had a bundle of vacation time built up. My retirement savings was slowly, but surely getting closer to real money. In other words, what I told my therapist amounted to a load of BS. Whether she knew that or not, I don’t know, she simply went with the flow of what I was telling her. So when I told her that for some reason I felt I had to leave that job, or sooner or later, it was going to kill me. She replied, “Let’s explore that.” So we did and I with a straight, solemn face told my therapist that the job that allowed me to pay my bills, enabling me to have the life that I’d long wanted was indeed slowly killing me. But strangely despite the insincere motivation behind its utterance, the statement still somehow felt true. My therapist wanted to deep dive further into my feelings on the matter. On the surface I did too. But in reality, my therapist was never in any danger of solving what had really ailed me at the time, mainly because in order for her to provide me with any tangible solutions she would have had to know me. Really know me. And I was not prepared to let that happen, especially since at that time, I really didn’t know myself. At the end of the eight or so weeks, I discontinued the therapy sessions and returned to work. My stay back at work was relatively brief. The following year at the end of January I quit for good. Why did I make that decision? And why pray-tell had I disregarded the years of slow, careful, planned steps, in order to do what, chase a dream? I really didn’t have the answers to the questions. Despite the fact that I was the one driving the car of my life, I had no idea why or where my voyage had started, or where it was headed.

My mother’s death in 2009 was an easy target to blame for my potentially self-destructive mindset in early 2015. Certainly depression is a serious thing, effecting many people, most of who are unaware of its presence as it often lurks beneath the consciousness of its sufferers. In my case, I didn’t totally dismiss out of hand the possibility that depression had somehow worked its claws into my mental state. Still, I was not convinced that either my mother’s death, or depression was the catalyst behind my decision making in January 2015. I deleted the pages of the manuscript I’d been working on for several weeks and started anew, convinced that the answers I sought were buried somewhere deep within me. My hands poised atop my computer keyboard. I started typing. Yes, I continued to miss my mother so I typed those words. As I did my eyes misted. Then, I began typing all the memories my brain had doggedly refused to relinquish through the years. I teared up again when I got to the memories of my mother, some of which were holdovers from my childhood. Her death at the young age of 60 years old affected me. There was no doubt about it. But I truly believed that I would’ve shortchanged the process if I’d stopped there, pinning everything on her passing. I was thoroughly convinced something else had fueled my decision to start on this voyage to now. So, I kept typing, looking for the theme of the memories and snatches of memories that my brain had kept on life support throughout my forty-nine years of living. In those memories I believed existed the secret for the reasons behind not only my decision-making in early 2015, but also for every decision I’d made up to that point in time, and since.

The oldest memory in my mental database is from the age of three years old. I’ve nursed and held it close to chest all these years. It’s part of a set of memories I’ve labeled the ‘early block.’ These particular memories center around the time after my parents had separated and my father had taken my sister and me to another part of the state to live with him. They’re my ‘first’ memories period. My parents separated about two years after I was born, but my brain kept no memories of them being together. But oddly, the last memory of my ‘early block’ is the one of me meeting my mother for the first time. Why had my brain kept these particular memories for so long? Why does my mind include the memory of my first meeting with my mother in with my ‘early block’ of memories which are dominated with images of the time spent with my father? Are these memories and the others I’ve held on to through the years responsible for the choices and decisions I’ve made during my life’s voyage to now? Is it all according to a plan? God’s plan? Or am I simply in my own head? Writing this book was about finding the answers to all the questions surrounding my memories and my decision-making. It was a personal discovery through an admittedly somewhat self-psychiatring process. It required visiting every memory I’ve held fast to throughout the years and researching the marvelous scientific work being done in the areas of the brain and memory. I learned a lot about myself during the process of writing this book. Some of the ‘remembered’ memories made me feel good in the recalling. Others made me feel embarrassed all over again. I was motivated by some. Felt ashamed by others. But I’ve included them all here because this process of discovery by singling out the memories my brain had decided to keep allowed me to not only reintroduce myself to myself, but also to my wife and kids. And now introduce me—the real me, to you, the reader. It was an honest, mental undressing that in its way has strengthened and emboldened me, enabling me to continue forth on my life’s voyage with great confidence and a strong awareness of my intended destination.

An excerpt from “Look at What the Brain Dragged In: My voyage from then to now”

The Mind of a Playmaker

On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation with what has since been dubbed, ‘the Malaise Speech.” At the time the nation was embroiled in an energy crisis as OPEC (the Middle East group that provided a significant amount of our oil) had cut exports to us, causing gas shortages and long three hour waits at some gas stations. Carter addressed the energy crisis that night, but he also addressed what he thought was the bigger issue in America at that time. I quote, “The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see the crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.” Yes, the president saw the American people as a significant part of the problem. The president added later in the speech, “As you know there is a growing disrespect for government and for our churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness, or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.”

I was drawn to this speech as I prepared to write my blog post because I believe President Carter’s speech could be delivered this week and still be spot on in describing America today. I believe we also have a crisis of confidence today. We don’t trust government. Church Sunday attendance has dropped significantly in the last few years, indicating we don’t trust that institution much anymore either. Public schools have long been whipping boys of local communities and now some people are even questioning the wisdom of sending their children to college where they’re liable to be brainwashed by the so called ‘liberal elite.’  Some believe that the divide in America along ideological and political lines threatens the very fabric of our beings. Our leaders don’t seem to have the answers. The American people in many ways appear to be catatonic and utterly rudderless. It’s as if we’re not descended from some of the strongest, hardest-working, determined people to ever walk the earth. I often wonder how our forebears would view Americans today. Would they be disappointed that so many of us blame government, the church, Wall Street, schools, our neighbors, just about any and every one for so many of OUR problems. Would they wonder why people believe that they alone can’t fix what ails them?  Would they balk at the number of people who refuse to roll up their sleeves, getting to work, claiming the lives they believe they deserve?

I’m an African-American. My ancestors were slaves, yet they too built this great nation. I’m so proud of my ancestors because I doubt too many races of people could endure the pain and suffering that my ancestors endured, yet survive so that I can sit down in a public library and type out this blog post. I wonder how our ancestors would feel at the Black Lives Matter movement. Would they too get angry at anyone, including other African-Americans for daring to say or suggest that all lives matter? How would they feel about the voting percentages of African-Americans? The high school dropout rate? The crime rate? How would they tackle the issue of black on black crime?

We as Americans have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to make America, great. We don’t need politicians or slogans to fuel our actions.  Everyone has the capability to make her or his situation better. In his speech, President Carter quoted a visitor to Camp David who said, “We’ve got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking, and start walking, stop cursing, and start praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.” And he was right. We, all of us, have the power to make our own lives better. Somewhere along our journey from colonial times to now, we’ve forgotten that. WE have to get back our can-do spirit. It’s how we conquered the West. It’s how we put a man on the moon. It’s how African-Americans won freedom and the right to sit anywhere on a bus, be served at lunch counters, go to any school, and to vote.

All of our ancestors fought diligently for America to get to this point. They looked within and didn’t wait for others to do what they could do for themselves. Americans were Playmakers. I’ll explain the term in depth in future blog posts, but suffice it to say, a playmaker is someone who finds ways to win in whatever situation he or she finds him or herself in. No excuses. No alibis. Doing what is right and just, and getting the job done by any legal and ethical means necessary. We all have an inner playmaker within us. We all have the ability to improve our own situations, be it personally or professionally. We just need to be reminded of that simple fact every so often.