About Richard M. Rosso, CFP

I'm a money manager; a writer at heart. I love to observe the imperfections and dig into my own. On occasion, it's a bloody ordeal.

Who The Hell Are You Anyway?

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All I remember were the wires – the strange form of apparatus attached to her head.

Designed to send an electrical current through her sick brain to cure it.

Or make it worse.

An AC/DC frontal lobotomy for the pre-disco era.

A temporary grasp on unreality. A last hope. When all else fails – hey, consider electricity?

Hey Carol Ann, don’t go into the light. I need you to stick your finger in it.

 

Lightbulb

I longed to push the button, pull the switch, thank the warden, increase the voltage, add water – whatever it would take for her to improve or just short-circuit the mortal coil. I was good with either direction this went.

Where’s the bathtub and the plugged-in curling iron therapy?

“Hey doctor or whoever you are. What is this supposed to do?”

“It will ease her severe depression. But she may forget a few things.”

“Like what?”

“Who you are, where she is, who she is.”

“Oh, is that all?!”

I was wondering if this brutal treatment was going to fry the brain inside her skull. Fry it even more than it was fried, already. I never remember anything positive coming out of electricity going through a head. Now I realize, at ten years-old, I was absolutely correct.

My sordid frames of reference then:

Conquest

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) – Electrical current “encouraging” Caesar the talking ape to utter a human word.

Electrodes = bad

And what the hell was an electrode anyway? Who cares, actually. Sounded intimidating.

the-brain-that-wouldnt-die2

“The Brain that Wouldn’t Die.” Another freak of nature kept alive by electricity (and maple syrup I think).

And of course, we remember Frankenstein and his bride. Overall, this electricity meeting up with lobes didn’t appear to conclude on a good note.

Naturally, electroconvulsive therapy (fancy name for electroshock treatment) was first introduced by Italians – Ugo Cerletti and Lucio Bini in 1938. Almost anything that my ethnic brethren delivers outside of pizza and art fails miserably. Oh well. Another good point for things not looking so hot post shock treatment.

In the 70’s electro-shock was employed for severe depression, mania, nymphomania (kidding), and it appears women felt more comfortable than men undergoing this form of torture. From what I recall it was common in my neighborhood. Maybe it was fluoride in the water; perhaps it was me chasing girls with used Kotex pads on a stick that caused young moms in the area to be depressed. Not sure. I’d do it all over again. No regrets.

All I knew then. All I know now – electrical current and a brain are not a match made in heaven.

shock man

 

How far will you go to forget?

The bad stuff. Those who wronged you. Those who fooled you, those who caused distress, the failures, the words you can’t take back, the actions that hurt others, the actions that hurt you, the deaths, the illnesses, the bad attitudes, your weariness, the negative thoughts, the self-sabotage, the wine you spill, tears, milk, guts. Never forget the bad. The bad adds perspective, wisdom. The mental path you’ve followed, the pain, the failures are a form of beauty. The setbacks blossom empathy, forgiveness, strength. Flaws make you beautiful. Human. The bad stuff is the blood which bonds us.

Who the hell are you? You’re bad. You make mistakes. Love yourself for your faults.

What do you do to remember?

The good junk. When your world is in sync. The break in the clouds, the deep breaths, the relief that comes from tiny blessings, the friendships, the beauty around you. How do you share that good? How do you reach out to those who need a positive word? The human voice, encouragement, devotion, laughter, listening. The good stuff is the heartbeat that keeps us going.

Who the hell are you?

You’re good. You make others feel worthy. Share your strength with others. 

Who the hell are you?

You’re human. You make strange purchase decisions, your brain is not wired to invest. Ask for help. Seek opinions that disagree with your own. Live with money mistakes. Revisit them often. You’ll avoid them in the future.

What doesn’t mix, doesn’t mix.

Electricity & brains, you & her, you & chocolate, you & alcohol, you & fried foods. Don’t force it. Learn to make peace with doesn’t mix in your life. What doesn’t mix causes friction (also not good for the frontal lobe).

Work to accept what doesn’t mix. Move on.

Who the hell are you? You understand what doesn’t mix is not your fault, it’s just the way it is. Learn to cherish the inner peace of acceptance.

“Who are you?”

“It’s your son, mom – Rich.”

“I have a son? I always wanted a son. I always wanted someone to love.”

“Me too, mom, me too.”

And for a brief moment.

There was electricity between us.

The Great Crabapple War of 1974

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“You’ll be dead soon.”

crab apple

Crabapple – a hard, bitter monstrosity. 

Not quite red, not quite green. Not quite sure where it fits within the grand scheme of all elements nature.

God had to be pissed off at the planet one day and said – “Look what I can do!”

Crabapples are a permanent fixture on the island of misfit fruits.

Wait: I’m not even sure it’s a fruit.

If you’re the unfortunate target of nature’s musket balls especially when hurled by 10-15 year old boys with arms fueled by mischief and sticky thoughts of 16 year old summer blondes in tube tops and denim cutoffs – then start counting the seconds from the sting until a perfect-round red welt appears somewhere on your exposed body: 1.2.3.

Worse than a swarm of yellow jackets turning a bare ankle into a hive.

A crabapple tree is nature’s ugly stepsister. Branches hang low enough to tear open the face of anybody adventurous enough to venture near its trunk.

At the ends of imperfect extensions hang clusters of green-reddish spheres. Oh, beautiful species of crabapple trees do exist. I hear they produce magnificently colorful flowers.

The abomination on the corner of Whitney Place & McDonald Avenue in Brooklyn was an exception. Oh, it tried to bloom. As kids, we messed with that poor tree so much, I believe it never had the chance to be left alone long enough to flourish.

Clearly, the tree wasn’t right.  Why was it allowed to live in misery? It managed to survive in the middle of a squared patch of dirt among a jagged brown and green glass compost blend of discarded beer and Coke bottles. Amazing.

Imprisoned by the apartments’ tenant garages on one side and an F train subway artery on the other, the only natural sunlight available to SadCrab  was high-noon sun filtered through elevated rail slats of the subway line anchored by massive steel beams that were driven deep into McDonald Avenue.

Unfortunately, the tree appeared to be half in this world, one root in hell. The blooms were sparse. Short-lived for a couple of weeks in early spring. The fruit appeared ‘halfway’ developed as if it were reluctant to make an appearance.

I’d walk by the thing every day and grimace.

One day I stopped. Stared with disdain. Shouted in its branches  – “You’ll be dead soon.”

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that ugly tree deserved respect. Just the fact that I remember it so well and how it contributed to the great CA wars is surely credit to its existence. I can’t be the only one who remembers the depressed crabapple tree.

The Great CA Wars switched on and off for a couple of years. I have no idea what triggered it. I was just recruited. Sloan and Whitney Place kids pitted against each other through the greatest (probably the only), crab-apple skirmishes in Brooklyn.

You see, Sloan kids were perceived as rich. Ironically, we were all part of the same alphabet swirling around in the same socio-economic soup bowl. Yet, Sloans were deemed the high brows. Lower-middle class “1 percenters.”

Although the apartment complex on Whitney was a mirror image of the red-bricked three-story structure on Sloan, the exterior was the envy of Whitney folks. Freshly painted exterior bordered by robust bushes and flowers. Sloan was the king, baby. Parents and grandparents sat outside on actual folding chairs. Whitney? The stoops.  Poor Whitney. The interminable ugly step building. Dead grass, chipped lead paint (great for snacking).

See, you existed on Whitney, you LIVED on Sloan. There was a difference. Even the spring air on Sloan carried with it a spiced aroma. Joyous floral scents that sliced through an otherwise musty urban atmosphere.

So, what do boys do to vent frustrations? Establish borders, place the crabapple tree in the neutral zone, collect massive quantities of bitter musket balls and get ready for ALL OUT WAR! What else?

And war it was. Hundreds of nature’s pellets scatter shot through the air like an unripened mob of bloated bees.  Sloan on one side. Whitney on the other of a street selected as official battlefield.

Street-parked Chevys, Fords, Buicks served as Detroit’s finest foxholes. Elongated hoods and doors – trademarks of 70’s autos, remained under assault for a solid 30 minutes. Metal was no match for the onslaught. Several car surfaces were reduced to pimply apple-hailstorm fodder.

Hundreds of crabapples suffocated the street. Injuries took kids out who ran crying and fleeing from the scene. After a couple of hits in the back of the head and the bitch of  a sting from a smash to the cheek, I’d was out of Dodge, too. The wars weren’t long but they were painful. Eventually, we lost interest. Even angry ones. The Generals. They bailed on the troops. Or if I recall correctly, somebody’s mom screamed for Paulie to get the hell home for dinner ( remember – moms’ voices carried for 20 city streets).

No winners. No resolution. Yet of course, Sloan army always believed THEY WON. And that is indeed a win, isn’t it? Even when you lose, you win? Unfortunately, the only medals we had to show for the effort was a stripped bare tree, welts and boys who were about to catch hell for damaging property.

That darn tree lasted longer than any silly war and every next generation of kids who were raised, grew up, moved away.

I figured the tree took my words to root. Died years ago.

At the least, I assumed the owners of the buildings cut it down. Why would they allow it to live?

Life is funny – Little did I realize…

8 Random Thoughts (from a crabapple tree):

Every day decide the “how” to survive.

Life is hard. Learn to live with what you got. Work to thrive in the perfection of your imperfection. I have. Even when brats picked me clean. You can too. No excuses.

Used or ignored – a bit of both? You’re gonna be there.

There will be a time when people will want what you produce for their own selfish purposes. Then you’ll go ignored. Stand strong. Brace for any condition. Bloom when the weather feels right to do so again. Understand that most who cross your path are temporary.

A life can grow from anything. Even broken glass.

Growth emerges from beauty or ugliness. Born wedged between an F train and a concrete wall  – or in a soil rich patch of zip code, all of us seek the basics to stay alive. Appreciate our common ground: Love, food, water, maybe happiness (if you’re lucky).

Don’t assume I’m miserable being what I am.

There’s a reason I exist. Even if it’s for boys who write of me 40 years later. I’ll stand with dignity and serve my mission. I don’t owe you an explanation for my mission. I’ll win my battles quietly – behind the scenes. Under your radar, I will prosper – despite what you believe.

You have the right to produce bitter fruit.

You don’t need to be joyful all the damn time. It’s not human. It’s not for trees either. Happiness ebbs and flows. Life happens. Bad situations arise. In turn, you will bear cynical fruit. Revel in sorrow a bit. Not too long, though. Eventually you’ll find a way to bud flowers. If I can, you can.

Mock me, mock yourself.

Mock the ugly in me? You’re not in acceptance of the ugly in yourself. Swallow that bitter crabapple.

Who’s got it worse?

You assume I’m sad. That’s because you cannot relate to me. Just like I can’t relate to how you pack into that F train subway car like a human sardine the same times twice every day until you die.

I’m alive. Are you? 

Four decades ago you said I’d be dead soon.  Let me ask – Who’s closer to death? Me or you? How do the odds appear now?

Thanks to Google Maps I know that crabapple teacher is indeed, still alive. Despite my nasty words, it didn’t die. It wasn’t cut down, either.

Today, that tree has a high chain-linked fence around it to protect it. Not sure why.

Maybe to prevent another crabapple war. Highly unlikely. Kids don’t play outside anymore.

Maybe it’s to protect branches from boys who at one time, liked to climb that gnarly trunk. Nah. Boys don’t play outside anymore. Frankly, I’m not sure boys are allowed to be boys anymore.

Perhaps this tree got the best of me. Perhaps it’s more protected than I’ll ever be. Maybe today, based on how the world has changed, it stays safe and thrives behind a barrier. Guarded from jerks.

There’s a great chance that tree I mocked so long ago, outlives me.

My daughter wants to visit my old neighborhood when we visit New York in December.

I may just show her that tree. Tell her the story.

Ask her to visit that tree once I’m gone.

Just maybe the greatest lessons that tree taught me were empathy and irony.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Bird Box” Path to Sanity in 2019.

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We all have a Bird Box.

We just don’t pay enough attention to our internal Bird Box: It’s called “the gut.”

A flutter which arises when things aren’t quite right – although on the surface it appears to be biz as usual, a tingle, a quiet thought that seems to come out of nowhere attempts to cut through the noise and gain our attention. Unfortunately, we tend to ignore our gut when it advises us to flee – whether it’s a cancerous relationship, a job we hate, a family member that causes grief – we talk down to or discount our “Gut Box.”

In a popular Netflix movie, Sandra Bullock and two children are focused to escape an ominous force that motivates observers to commit suicide. Victims stare into nothing, hear voices of deceased loved ones, perhaps experience their greatest fears, their pupils get weird and then BOOM. Suddenly, poor bastards are jumping in front of cars, stabbing themselves in the neck with scissors. Blindfolds are a necessity.

Birds can detect when this invisible death mist is rolling in. They go into a frenzy. The heart of the film is a blindfolded crew of Bullock and two children who must travel a treacherous river to safe haven. Ironically, a home for the blind located downstream.

Our three protagonists have the ragged clothes on their backs and death-grip on a box with a strap. The box has holes. Inside the box? You got it. A couple of birds. Nature’s ADT against “the thing that causes you to horrible things to yourself.” Personally, I thought it animal abuse. I mean, aren’t there enough birds to pay attention to in the sky without having to keep captive two parakeets in a tiny box?

But I digress.

Anyway, you don’t need play to hunter or hit up Petco to stock up on birds. Inside your body is the best primal warning system on the planet. I thought about calling it a “Turd Box” but that’s gross.

So, How do we trust our guts more often? Why do we tend to ignore when the birds start flutterin’?

Random Thoughts:

Remain vigilant with each human encounter no matter how minor it appears.

I was involved with a person who exhibited signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Over the last 3 years, I’ve spent hours reading all I can about narcissism only because the word gets thrown around flippantly – I truly wanted to understand it. Most important, I wanted to figure out who I was and why I fell so hard for someone with this alleged condition.

The gut nudged me on numerous occasions to get the hell away. However, my thoughts, mostly my heart, promptly suffocated the birds; I carelessly discounted my Gut Box. I was in denial. I thought it would get better. It didn’t. It got worse.

Only rivaled by a negative experience with a former employer, this was the worst association of my lifetime (so far). I have nobody to blame but the person who stares at me in the mirror. I’m fortunate it’s happened once. I know people immersed in repeated instances, entrenched patterns with those who are unhealthy for them.

Now when my Gut Box flutters, I listen. I am conditioned to conclude, depart, and never look back. It took pain to awaken my respect for the Gut Box.

Never be afraid to walk away or at the least, fully explore what your inner voice is telling you.

Don’t discount the feeling because…

Your gut is a survival tool. The best early-warning system you got. Ignore it at your own risk.

Ignore the “Bird Box” and the next step may be a pine box (or whatever they use for caskets these days). In reality, ignoring the Gut Box may cause death, too. It’ll just take longer and possibly be more painful than anything Sandra Bullock would need to deal with if she dared to remove her blindfold.

Your inner warning system deserves attention. Stop the attempts to rationalize or squelch the voice. As children, we observed people through clear lens. As adults, our lens are smeared and warped by life experiences and biased perceptions. The more proficient you become at verbal and physical cues, the stronger a gut sense will become, too. The gut is the ultimate people “decoder.”

Be an observer. Work out your core Gut Box. Stand outside life and look in a bit. 

Sit in a coffee shop or any populated public place with pen and paper and notice how those around you behave. Can you pick up on verbal and physical cues? Anything you can do to sharpen observation skills will help to work out your core Gut Box.

It’s acceptable to disengage with those who set off your internal sense of danger. No questions asked. Sure, you will mess up a couple of times. The collateral danger is worth long-term health and sanity.

Ironically, a well-toned Gut Box can make you seem psychic. You’ll deftly anticipate whether an association needs to conclude or a relationship is worth the effort.  A Gut Box will allow you to engage with the world and not cut yourself off based on negative episodes of the past, thus making you increasingly socially adaptable!

So, watch Bird Box. Personally, I thought it was meh. No big deal. Too many holes in the script, but enjoyable.

Focus on the Gut Box in 2019.

It’s the best early-warning system you got.

Discard the blindfolds that life has placed over your eyes.

It’s a matter of life or death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding Your Flame – 2019 Edition.

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Marcus Aurelius referenced ‘Amor Fati’ often in his work.

Amor Fati –  Love of fate. Every moment, every encounter- happiness, suffering, loss – treated as a welcomed visitor. 

Embrace the stranger or friend forever at the door. Amor Fati – the zealous acceptance for all that crosses our path.

Author and friend Kamal Ravikant would deem Amor Fati as the light of truth and only in that blinding bright can one discover who they are, who they’re meant to be.

Nothing dark survives in in Amor Fati. We are bigger than any obstacle, even death.

Image result for embrace death

Perhaps a radical acquiescence of suffering and all that is “meant to be,” is truly the Holy Grail of happiness. To fight Amor Fati is to burn inside. Wedged within the hot space between where we wish things were in place of gratitude for how things are, festers a debilitating friction. Ironically, to fight, to wish things were different, is to fall victim to despondency and self-pity.

I admit Amor Fati is a great challenge. Daily, I must focus on what I’m grateful for (even if it’s an unfortunate event), and train my brain to feel happy about all that enters my space. It’s interesting how after months of focusing on gratefulness, I am increasingly sensitive to friction and adept at correcting my course. Like when a car starts to veer into another lane. A spark goes off in the brain, you take corrective action.

My continued challenge in 2019 will be Amor Fati (that loveable scamp). What will you do to accept it into your life?

How can you make Amor Fati a reality?

Some ideas.

amor fati

Random Thoughts:

CONSIDER THE WORST THAT CAN HAPPEN.

Your brain turns what you believe even if it’s false, into reality. It doesn’t know any better. In other words, if you focus on the pain, you’ll feel the pain. If you consider the worst that can happen in your life then realize it hasn’t occurred, a wave of gratefulness (relief) will take over. I call it ‘endorphin pinging.‘ Turning on the HAPPY TAP.

What you’re doing is training your mind to ponder negative consequences (why bother with positive, we like when good stuff enters our lives), and rewire how you deal with adversity.

I’ve made it sort of a game. On the way to work I imagine I have a blowout and wonder how I’d react; at work I’ll consider losing my best clients then reach out to talk to them grateful they are happy over some life event, or share concerns with me. Get it? Do it.

DOCUMENT GRATEFULNESS DAILY.

Yea, I know. Pain in the ass. At least I thought. Then at night before sleep I started to document 3 things I was thankful for. Some of it was stupid shit like not spilling coffee on my shirt which tends to happen often.

On rough days when nothing seems to go right or I feel like I’m deep in the badlands of dickhead city, even then I find a moment to find something positive. Surprisingly, I find myself grateful for the assholes; I’m able to deal with a situation with grace, not envision the satisfaction of hitting somebody in the head with a bat (obviously, I’m a work in progress).

EMBRACE ADVERSITY WITH VIGOR. Well try at least :/.

Just because you embrace adversity doesn’t mean you sit there and get rolled over. Just the opposite. I had a health scare a couple of years ago based on an aberrant blood chemistry. For an hour I was frightened. Frozen. I became detective Columbo to understand what I may be ahead for me and the latest medical diagnostics available to determine whether I really had something to worry about.

Long story short, I found a prominent specialist who believed in the advanced medical testing I suggested and although expensive I was able to avoid an unnecessary (and highly inaccurate), biopsy procedure. The more research you undertake to understand your obstacle the less you’ll fear it. Trust me.

EXPECTATIONS = 0 = AMOR FATI SQUARED.

Best. Math. Ever. I have 0 expectations of anybody I know, anyone I encounter, every engagement. Truly zero. And with that process comes zero disappointment. It was like my mind subconsciously established a test, set some bar that others needed to pass or jump for me to feel happy. Now? NADA.

This revelation has sparked encouragement to seek the good or at least pleasant, in each encounter and engage the present moment. I’m delightfully surprised on many occasions (hell, it’s not tough to exceed 0). It’s sort of gotten weird because if the experience feels too good, too easy, or events turn out perfectly as planned, I question the outcome.  Sound strange? Yes, a bit. However, it keeps me grounded as I realize nothing is permanent.

AMOR FAT(I) SAVINGS ACCOUNT.

The healthier my savings account, the warmer my embrace of Amor Fati. Perhaps having cash to deal with adversities makes it easier to buffer financial fragility and remain calm enough to think a situation through. I don’t know how much cash equals Amor Fati to you. However, an emergency buffer of a year’s worth of living expenses sounds right. Two years sounds even better.

VISUALIZE YOUR FLAME AND UNDERSTAND HOW THERE ARE ALWAYS ASHES IN THE END.

I visualize tossing wood into a fire. I see a stone hearth, raging flames. The core of a log connects with a color I feel at the peak emotion of an event: Blue for heavenly, amber for warm, red for anger, yellow for apathy. All that meets us, crosses us = leaves us. Good or bad, what fate provides and (including us), inevitably turn to ash and forgotten. Each flame is beautiful. Each flame is different. Each flame dies. Within glowing ambers, it is all the same. In this unity and calm of an ending smolders Amor Fati.

So, how will you incorporate Amor Fati into your life in 2019.

May nothing black survive your cleansing process.

 

 

 

A Christmas Tree Story: What is Yours?

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vintage five

Businesses don’t put up Christmas trees anymore.

And maybe that’s one of our problems.

Well, some do. Unfortunately, trees are so rare, I usually do a double take when I see one. Halt in my tracks just to gawk. Nostalgia neurons burn cobwebs, fire hot in my brain. I haven’t ruled out how nostalgia is a real thing for me. Christmas trees stir childhood curiosity and just a touch of joy. Since Christmas ornaments only witness daylight once a year, the memories they keep, the stories they tell remain fresh and raw for what feels like an eternity.

A Christmas tree is a universal beacon of warmth and hospitality. To me, anyway.

Home life in my youth was turbulent. There were consistent, life-shattering surprises. Security was not on the reality list. However, there were a few things in my life back then I could always depend and one was the variety of trees proudly showcased in business plate-glass and urban apartment windows that made up a tiny happy segment of my world.

I became an observer. A Christmas tree aficionado. vintage four

Trees tall and short, ragged and rich. All proud in display.

Ornaments that adorned real pine, plastic, and even aluminum where the tips stealth-sliced your fingers. Shiny baubles seemingly proud to reflect and bend colored twinkles . Lights that that stick around, never to be extinguished In my mind. The beauty refuses to burn away.

Stories behind these trees and their artifacts were all too real. You see, those trees, along with the stuff straining branches, represented a shiny bright in time, now passed (past).

Some memories joyous many sad.

A forever marriage that didn’t survive the trip, a grandparent long dead yet fondly represented, a son never to return from some shit war, an ended relationship marked by a forever ornament that testified to a love date-stamped on a Hallmark artifact.

You see, Christmas trees are a yuletide 23 & Me.

Wandering excited through the west side of Avenue U, a lower-middle class strip, hodge-podge of small business and family-run establishments in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn, NY on the Friday after Thanksgiving, is a fond memory of childhood.

When I think about the 4 city- block walk to the avenue, my eyes would dart frantically from one house and apartment window to the next, searching for a featured tree. In my mind, every window framed a story. Testaments to love, tradition and household stability. I mean what could go wrong when you had a Christmas tree in the house? In my imagination, these sentinels guarded against bad things. String lights scared away the darkness; ornaments full of plastic and glass preserved love so strong, evil spirits wouldn’t dare to trespass.

vintage three

So, as I walked in focused lockstep, moved forward fast to Taverna’s Department Store, in anticipation of a cordoned Christmas fantasy land at the back of the store.

Along the way the trees. So. Many. Trees.

On the corner of West 2nd Street and the avenue, stood Sal Manna’s Shoes. During the year I hated that place. My mother would drag me in to purchase Easter shoes every year. The entire ritual of sitting in a row of seats, having my foot placed in a metal vice to determine size, trying on stiff patented leather shoes and Sal pressing down diligently on a big  toe to figure out the answer to the mystical question nobody ever could answer – “how long before he outgrows these Buster Brown torture devices?” was never a happy time.

However, Sal had one of the finest trees in the neighborhood; it was one of the few times I could walk into his establishment withhold a feeling of foreboding and fear for my sole.

“Mr. Manna, what a great tree.”

“Thank you!” Big smile.

I’d walk up to it and gently handle the ornaments. I expected to him to scream at me “DON’T TOUCH!” but he never did.

He walked to me and started to tell me the story behind the tree. I can’t remember it all but from what I recall it was the first tree he bought for his store years back as finally things were going well (thanks to all the Italian moms who believed Jesus wouldn’t resurrect unless their kids had new shoes).

He was proud of what the tree represented for him and his family – prosperity, security.

Random Thoughts:

Never forget the stories behind your tree. Those stories represent who you are; they stir a feeling you felt long ago. Old ornaments breathe new life into the good things from your past that are forgotten the rest of the year. Even if the stories are sad, they now go down like a fine bourbon – in 5 seconds you’re overwhelmed by warmth.

Your tree is alive all year. Even when stored away, even when you skip years of extracting it from a cardboard tomb, the memories never die. Nor should they. They are you. Who you were, who you are, who you always will be.

Maybe what’s wrong with society is we don’t erect enough trees. Not enough trees, not enough memories, All selfie, no story. No tree in the heart, no element of humanity.

Our trees are dying every day.

Vintage two

So what’s your Christmas tree story? Can you remember it today? Can you keep it tucked away and put it up when you need to feel love, warmth and security?

vintage one

Businesses don’t put up Christmas trees anymore.

Perhaps there’s a good reason.

Or maybe we’ve all just lost yet another ritual that brought us together.

Can you feel the joy again?

In this moment like a last moment?

Can even the sad be cathartic?

Try it and see.

It’s fine to be surprised by feelings that are unpacked and adorned for all to witness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Things I Know. The Rest Is Bullshit.

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Sometimes everything at once. Sometimes just the sky.

Mary Chapin Carpenter.

I fuck up a lot.

I try. I fail. I try again. I stop trying. I regroup. I attract some of the worst people on the planet and work to process how they don’t represent the masses.

On occasion, I win, I learn, I grow. My biggest issue is I’m not grateful enough for the flowers, the victories, the end products. I’m loving the seeds but minimizing the impact of the blooms. There’s something noble about toil and decadent about the results. I am no longer impressed by decadence. The effort turns me on.

Jordan B. Peterson in 12 Rules For Life – An Antidote To Chaos, wrote – “Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak.”

The dirty stuff learned through toil and experience means everything.  Happiness is in the ‘grit’ as my friend Byron Kidder calls it: At the crunch beneath a footfall an idea forms, a road is begun. One word leads to six, then ten. Then a page. As my friend Randy Lemmon garden-expert extraordinaire says:

“It’s all about the soil.”

Life is a robust mixture of experiences –  sorrow shadows, bullshit rules that society deems honorable but as we age make no sense, boundaries crossed, beautiful offerings, misfit gifts if unwrapped reveal lessons when needed the most.

Let’s face it –  life is finite flesh & blood dichotomy – what you put into it can grow beautiful. However, you best know the weeds and kill them quick.

Otherwise, they take over.

As I focus on lessons learned, lived, loved, (hated at times), I realize how these tenets align, allow me to re-focus on what’s important.

That damn flower. I’ve finally found comfort in inevitability; that flower is gonna die. Can’t do a thing about it. I’ll enjoy everything about it while it’s here. I take notice how light accentuates grooves in the pedals at low sun; I can observe, sort out without mental drift, how and why it has a reason to exist (so I can enjoy it, others can, too!).

In the quiet times, when it’s just me and the sky, I document observations, write script dialogue, have colorful conversations between my ears. I ask questions to the 25 trees at the homestead. Depending the direction they sway, answers are revealed. And yes, they sway when queried. I also know whether it’s a no-stop-go. Or just a stop. Trees are nature’s Magic 8 Ball. I’m convinced.

Here are the 11 things I know. You have your personal doctrine. I have mine. They’re not up for disagreement or discussion. Doctrines serve best those who create not criticize them. Share yours.  Write. Follow.

Writing is inky-swear oath to yourself.

Random Thoughts:

Not everyone deserves forgiveness. You however, must forgive yourself.

Listen it’s rare, but some people do not deserve a free pass. Their intentions are untrue. They seek to use, inflict damage upon others. They follow a script that serves only them.  It’s fine if duped. You’re human. I say let the universe deal with these types. They’ll never be happy, never learn. Until karma finds a way to strike them, they’ll live their lives and not give a second shit to setting yours back.

Life is a 50/50. 50% shock, 50% awe.

If you don’t have chaos, you don’t have change. If you don’t change, you die. Or worse. Get stuck in a life you hate. Learn to weather the shocks, enjoy the awe. What’s the alternative?

If you’re gonna a hater, be a good one. If you’re a lover, be a great one. If you’re hated, make sure you’re really, really reviled. If loved, make sure it’s the best love ever.

Love and hate is fire and ice. Both burn. Both can motivate. Both can kill. Be the best at both. Leave your mark on others. Burn them or freeze them. Nothing in between.

Love is infinite. Humans and technology block the flow of it.

Adults manifest mind-garbage. Over time, a multiplying, rotting dump of negative experiences must be bulldozed aside with each new person met. Ultimately, the debris is piled so high and deep, you can no longer bulldoze it. Instead, you’re consumed by it.

What I’ve noticed is that garbage people always leave a little bit of debris with you after they’re gone. The flow of love, the give-and-take of understanding, empathy, suffocates and dies among the rubble. Technology, especially social media has the ability to accelerate the build-up of garbage in the dump.

Be comfortable sitting in the back.

All throughout elementary school, high school and college I had to sit in the front row. I have no idea why. I believed my focus on the lessons would be better. I considered all who sat in the back as slackers and losers. Nobody taught me that. It was just my perception. Boy, was I wrong.

Sit in the front, die from myopia. Sit in the back, see the big picture. Feel less pressure. Yea, I sit close to or in the back. Sitting up front is too narrow a perspective for me now.

Consider the lack of magnificence a mark of virtue.

Want to feel small? Focus on the sky.  Twice a day, 25 seconds. Just when you think you’re the shit or “all that,”  vastness of the never-ending injects poison into an ego. It’s a freeing “I can die in my driveway and the waste management dude can cart me a way,” kind of feeling. Don’t perceive this as negative. Far from it. Humility realigns focus on how to be a better iteration of a human. It allows you to give yourself a free pass, shake who you were at another time. Any other time. Who you were doesn’t matter. Who you are now means everything.

As Rick Warren said:

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” 

At all costs, avoid the “Dust People.”

Dust People. My term for the darkest breed of narcissists. Those who use others for career advancement, sex and social status. They do nothing but lie and blame to divert from their true motivations. All the while, they create the ultimate relationship escape plan. They always have prospective new lovers (suckers), waiting in the shadows.

Once Dusters have fed off their victims, once their fake game is up, they shake ’em off (like dust from old jeans),  move on to the next and newest conquest. Ostensibly. the lethal pattern continues. They morph into the lives of new love/lust connections until their true self is revealed, thus leaving another victim shattered emotionally and/or financially.

I’ve been immersed in the trials of the Old West -New Mexico Territory specifically, as preparation for a screenplay – “The Rifleman – Origins.” The back story of how an ordinary farmer and rancher named Lucas McCain became a legend. The Rifleman was a hit television series from the late 1950s through the early 1960s. The saga of a proud father who alone raises his only son Mark McCain.

In the brown-dirt land of New Mexico Territory the parameters of law are newly forged. Boundaries between life and death are easily blurred and crossed with devastating consequences. Lucas’ noble intentions to begin a new life, revitalize an abandoned ranch and keep his son safe in the middle of this tumultuous period, are frequently tested.

Lucas’ stalwart friend, father figure and new lawman in the town of Northfork is a creased and lean former gunslinger with his own healthy share of sleeping demons.

Micah Torrance, known equally for his sordid past and change of heart due to personal tragedy, had friends in high places like Granville Henderson Oury, a well-known American politician, lawyer, judge for the New Mexico Territory and fierce soldier who managed to survive the Crabb Massacre of 1857 where 100 Americans were killed after an eight-day battle with Mexican forces.

Micah and Granville fought side-by-side through several bloody skirmishes. Granville personally handpicked and deputized a reluctant and skeptical Micah to protect the recently-organized town of Northfork which in Granville’s view, was to become the West’s shining example (experiment), of how the law can protect and help citizens thrive. And as Micah would lament – “Big Ol’ Granville usually gets what he wants.”

It’s amazing how much I learned about dust, yes dust, writing this monster. Dust could be feared as it was associated with drought and drought portends ruin. The abrasive nature of dirt and dust had the ability to rot clothes, rip bare skin, which made it important for cowboys to dress and protect accordingly. Scarves, heavy canvas, denim and tartan long-sleeved shirts.

The irony is Micah is a reluctant lawman; he possesses little faith in humanity and grapples with why he should bother to protect it. “Just let people do what they do, it’s no concern of mine. If they do or don’t figure it out, they’ll die, just the same.”

It’s feigned optimism and protective care for Lucas and Mark that motivates Micah to take Granville up on his offer to galvanize and protect Northfork. Perhaps they remind Micah of his own son and grandson slain by vengeful Apaches.

I’ll share some dialogue between Lucas and Micah when it comes to dirt and dust:

After a six-month drought, the abandoned Emerson Ranch, three miles north of Northfork, appears dead and hopeless to Lucas McCain. He bends his lanky frame at the knees to observe a single flower that grows from the dust. The dry powder he picks up to rub between his fingers disappears easily into the heat. Lucas looks up and across what’s left of worn fences, dirt-blasted barns and a wood and stone structure that would be home for him and Mark. Micah is behind him. Purposely silent until the quiet was 10 minutes too long.

MICAH

Well, the price is right.

LUCAS

I should be paid to take it.

Micah

Yea, if life worked that way it wouldn’t be called life or whatever this shit is we go through.

Lucas

The dust. It’s in my nose. My clothes feel like they’re rotting from the inside out because of it.

Micah

The dust is in your head, Lucas. Turn this into something. Get out of your head and into the toil. Nothing stays the same. The rain will come. Your head will clear. Your thoughts will clear, Lucas Boy. The earth will show you what it can do. You’ll build something here. For you and Mark.

Lucas (finally stands from his crouched position)

It’s tough for a man to think clear in the dark, Micah.

Micah

The dark is no bother to me. I ain’t afraid of it. Can’t get to the light if there isn’t dark first. I bet when the sun comes up over that ridge, it’s a sight to see.

Lucas (looks over at Micah and smiles lightly)

You trying to sell me something that isn’t for sale, Micah? (Silence). Alright. I’ll give it a thought.

Micah (gestures over to barn entrance where Mark is smiling and waving to catch the adults’ attention).

Looks like Mark already has.

Lucas

Yea. I was afraid of that.

****************************************************************

There’s a point we all must make a choice to cultivate dirt and make it something better. Dust people you cannot change. You must detect and walk.

Or you’re going to lose so, so much.

Recognize every person you meet is not the best or the worst. Just something in-between.

We are marginal at best, mired in the comfort of status quo. The best and the worst of people have lots of energy to share. It’s fine to spend time with those in the middle. They’re on a path to best or worst and exciting to listen to, understand what drives them to move from the middle to the outliers. I also find it fascinating what keeps them mired in middle. Is it security, fear, complacency, low T?

There’s a point you’ll be afraid of the dark and joyfully anticipate the light which follows.

You’ll appreciate the light all the more when the dark is behind you. Enough said. You can figure this one out on your own.

Life is 110% conflict – 109% with yourself.

Our minds and egos create alternative lives of “what would happen if,” that have nothing to do with the present state. Whatever we fight internal or external, we are drawn to or own a piece of it.

Until you find out and destroy what you’re contributing to the battles, they’ll never cease. One party needs to drop the weapons. If smart, it’ll be you. If not, you’ll continue to fight imaginary wars and lose all who are close to you.

Bad experiences are unwrapped gifts that provide lessons only when opened.

I’m not a big fan of the “everything is a lesson,” mantra. A lesson should mean I don’t repeat the same mistake or if placed in a similar negative situation, I respond differently. I’ve had many bad experiences but few lessons. It’s fine as the opened gifts are exponentially greater than the ones I continue to leave unwrapped.

We all have rules, subconsciously or on our sleeves for others to see, we follow every day.

In this society, at this time, your spirit is in constant jeopardy. Make sure your ingrained tenets aren’t major catalysts for the death of it.

 

Dedicated to “The Rifleman” co-writer and “Mister LA,” Kelly Raymer.

4 Simple Ways to Live a Happier Life.

“In the dark of light, there’s no life in sight.”

Your IPhone when you stare into the screen.

Reality alert: As humans our tendency is to complicate everything, or close to everything. This penchant to complicate festers the longer we live.

Once I believed that with age came wisdom and clarity. Now, I’m not so sure.

With each passing year, the build-up of negative experiences saunter like heavy suffocating shadows.

We over-stuff our heads with negative episodes of the past. Personal baggage pressed at the seams appears at the ready to spill poisonous contents on innocent poor bastards thus destroying any hope of connection.

Facebook has a blocking feature where you can make people quickly disappear.

Blocking is a healthy addiction. Too bad we can’t find a way to permanently block debilitating thoughts. At least long enough to allow another to share a comforting word without skeptically searching behind it for a motive. Too much searching. Not enough listening.

We are overstimulated and overstimulation leads to overthinking which culminates in complication.

Opportunities to connect with a clean slate, with minimal if any expectations, are rare.

The worst part?

Our inner sparks go cold. Nothing excites us anymore. We think smaller. We can no longer find the humor. We lose hope.

This will be my first Christmas without a tree. Oh, I own one. Purchased a new eight-foot evergreen beauty with colored lights from Wayfair last month. Surprising to me, I have very little motivation to release the damn thing. Like opening the box means imminent doom. It’s a warning sign that something isn’t right. One I won’t ignore.

I think about how our brains shrink as we age. Perhaps that’s the reason I’m just not feeling the tree thing this year.

It’s all about perspective and not falling into a dark well with a bottom that never follows through. Talk about perspective – I know a few males who can’t ‘get it up’ any longer and they’re happier as hell. Happier than they’ve ever been.

Having sex, thinking about sex, working to get sex, steers precious mental resources away from important, life-changing ventures. So they tell me.

One head may be dead but the other – Teeming with ideas?

Amazing what happens when the bar is raised high from the low of which you focus.

Simplicity in a world dominated by narcissistic grandeur is a daily challenge. One must work at it. Stay focused. Of course, it’s healthy to have a positive self image. However, there’s a deteriorating marginal utility to self-adulation when every photo on your personal Facebook page is a selfie (and they all look the same after a while, BTW).

In the social media age, seductive headlines, each inflammatory phrase, is deftly crafted to over-stimulate the limbic system of the brain, the amygdala, or plainly, the primal ground-zero of personal fears.

Fears that we’re not the smartest, the prettiest, the sexiest, the most popular; that our dicks are too small, asses too wide; our politics are rot and conflicting opinions don’t count for shit. Today there exist endless algorithms of headlines which gorge negativity.

Image result for fear

Social media obfuscates how we truly measure up with little understanding why we try so hard to do so. We’re constantly competing, seeking something (or someone) smarter or betting looking, always striving to one-up. Instead of competing with ourselves, we’re competing with the fabricated, select Facebook lives of others, most of them strangers.

It’s an anxious, mystifying state of purgatory. The hamster wheel to nowhere. No rewarding endgame. Just exhaustion.

At the end of all the mental bullshit gymnastics, I wonder:

What the fuck do we accomplish?

Image result for penis shrinkage

As I purposely tighten up my personal space and establish new boundaries which includes a reduction of social activities, purposeful quiet has allowed me to re-group and take inventory of the physical, mental and spiritual contents of my life.

Calm has finally arrived after a prolonged stint in a mentally abusive relationship, the worst I’ve experienced with another human; a prolonged period of anger, mourning, and ostensibly, apathy, blissful apathy.

It’s also been an amazing period of career growth. Embedded throughout there has been this yearning, insatiable desire for simplicity.

In a plugged-in 24/7 world that seems to thrive on complexity and drama, I cogitate over simplicity as the true path to dissonance reduction. Inner quiet emerges from disconnect, not the connect.

Achieving small, however you define ‘small,’ allows control and control creates choices that lead to fulfilling accomplishments. At the least, your perspective won’t feel “blocked” or “polluted” by the miasma of complexity.

Listen, people are catching on to the concept of simple. It’s not a fad. It’s becoming a way of life for a generation. Oh they’re online connected but ironically they’ve found the way to use it to their advantage, I guess.

Forget Millennials. Consider Gen Z or those born after 1998. They strive for small yet enriching lives.

gen-z

According to Goldman analysts Robert Boroujerdi and Christopher Wolf, Gen Z is more entrepreneurial and pragmatic about money,

“Raised by parents during a time marred by economic stress, rising student debt burdens, socio-economic tensions and war overseas, these Gen Z youths carry a less idealistic, more pragmatic perspective on the world.”

What are 4 ways to live a simpler life?

Random Thoughts:

Downsize

Living lavish appears great in movies. In reality, not so much. Big mortgage, big car payment, big liabilities in general, are certain to curtail the breathing room and proper perspective to allow consideration of  life-changing choices that can lead to enriching wealth however wealth is defined.

Generally, people will stick with what feels safe such as a job they dislike, solely to meet financial obligations. They may even compromise their personal ambitions, seek happiness in the very possessions that chain them, prevent them from achieving personal and financial self-fulfillment.

Downsizing begins in the psyche. Start small. Take inventory of material items no longer used then release them. If you must purchase a durable good like an auto, exclude models with unnecessary bells and whistles.

Need a kitchen appliance? Basic models freeze, clean, bake at 30% less; seek out floor models or slightly dented. I’ve always been amazed by consumers who are turned off by an undetectable scratch on a refrigerator door.

Downsizing will help you reclaim some of the rhythm of life choked off by a complex, debt-fueled existence.

Cut

Image result for negative energy

The wrong people can chip away at your sense of well-being like a cancer. Complex reasons exist for keeping around those who treat you badly, cut you down or make you feel rotten about yourself. I won’t go into them. Look back and I’m certain you can come to your own conclusions as to why you stay longer than you should. We’ve all gone through this.

Cutting people you dislike out your life is one thing; removing those you love because their energy isn’t healthy is a supreme paradox.

Those who thrive on drama or negativity battle a special kind of demon. Usually, due to a great loss or void in their lives their perspective is closed, or off kilter. They’re not out consciously to cause harm.

Frankly, more of the damage is to themselves; their release of energy or what I deem the “after burn,” is what those close to them feel. It’s like standing near a blazing fever or taking in the bittersweet odor of a person close to death from metastasizing cancer.

The easiest path to a cut is simply, avoidance. Frankly, under the guise of being busy it’s plausible to rarely be in the same place at the same time.

Regardless of the method, to remove people you like or possess no-ill will is a difficult conscious choice to cleanse the negative and establish fresh boundaries.  It’s the saddest of breaks, however it could be necessary.

Journal

Self-reflection with journal and pen (not computer), even if it’s only 15 minutes a day, is a healthy way to blow off steam and deal with the energy-draining trials of the daily toil.

Whether it’s author James Altucher’s daily habit to generate 10 ideas a day on a waiter’s pad of all things, documenting a morning ritual or short sentences of gratitude, writing is a healthy addiction that provides balance.

As I’m up at 4 am daily (I’m a morning person), I favor The Morning Sidekick Journal.

Abstain

Abstinence is a discipline even if it’s not a forever deal. An extended period of isolation or limiting activities which fog the mind, is a self-nurturing act.

I have a friend who for three months a year abstains from alcohol, fried foods, staying out past nine and updating social media. It’s her line in the sand. A time of rejuvenation and renewed purpose. Those months are not boring, they’re filled with organization, writing, physical self-improvement and documented reflection.

You know what complicates lives?

Pondering over endless brands of paper towels and toilet paper that choke up long aisles at retail stores.

How much fluff and fragrance do I need to wipe my ass or clean counters? Also, keeping up with every social media channel and figuring out why we take on such a task is beyond rationale.

Recently, at Best Buy with my daughter I was overwhelmed by 4 rows of washers and dryers. Waves of whites and stainless steel blocks vying for consumer attention. Front load. Top load. Multiple dials, buttons.

Overall, I felt paralyzed and sort of stupid. When I need to replace appliances I’ll look to hire an appliance consultant to make sense of it all.

Washing machine

Am I launching a space shuttle or cleansing my briefs? You tell me.

Strange how with all the modern conveniences and innovations designed to make our lives easier, simplicity has been push-buttoned and dialed away.

Maybe ’tis the season let go. Get crazy: Don’t look for reasons to believe a person you recently met is going to disappoint like an ex or another asshole.

Set your expectations of others to zero. 

Well, I’m feeling better.

I may put that new Christmas tree up after all.

Check with me next week.

Dedicated to my close friend Lori Pinder who searches and defines her personal simplicity every day.