Springus interruptus

As we closed out the first month of spring, another 5 to 10 inches of snow fell on Northeast Wisconsin – the kind of thick, heavy snow that bends branches and strains backs. The only consolation was that street and road surfaces were warm enough that the accumulation was not as thick on concrete and asphalt as it was on the bare ground.

In fact our driveway didn’t need clearing even though 3-4 inches of white covered the yard that just two days earlier had been showing its first signs of healthy green.

Last year at this time, the weather was so mild by April 20 that I optimistically planted a row of radishes, peas and beans in a corner of the garden. My foolishness became clear with the cold snap and flurries of the first weekend in May. But those flurries were mid-July weather compared to the scene in our yard Wednesday.

On this Friday morning, the only sign of the storm is the bent arbor vitaes that will probably never recover. All of the gunk that snapped branches, dropped power lines and sent vehicles spinning has now melted. The forecasters say sunny and 55 on Sunday, 66-70 by Tuesday. Like all cold storms that interrupt a promise of hope, this one has faded into memory, a diversion more fit for laughter than despair.


The freedom of a puppy’s soul

One of the things that Willow likes to do is romp on our bed. It’s sort of a wrestling match and sort of a doggie massage session. During these sessions she will either wrap her jaws around my forearm or bite down on my sleeve without actually connecting with my arm.

That’s a remarkable decision on her part. It means we can play with a little more rough-housing because we trust each other not to cause harm. We both know that as the one with sharper teeth, Willow could shred my arm to pieces. We both know that as the larger beast, I could probably inflict some significant damage on her. But we choose to play in a way that avoids those things.

There is a philosophical theory that the difference between a human and an animal is that a human has a soul and the ability to know and choose right from wrong. But if Willow does not possess these qualities, how does she know not to chew my hand off? How does a beast with no soul develop the ability to play, and play safe?

No, this is a special creature with a sense of whimsy and a spirit of joy. Perhaps it’s a stretch to conclude that my companion is a gentle soul based on the observation that my hand remains attached to my wrist. But I reject the notion that there is no soul behind those devoted eyes.

The joy of joy

I enjoy joy. Embracing the thrill of living in all of its colors feels delightful. When joy is the default condition of the day, it’s a banner day.

Willow, our home’s golden retriever companion, is a remarkable example of how to live a joyful life. At 2 years old, she seeks out joy with the curiosity of a child and the wisdom of the joyous.

When I follow her lead, I achieve an unmatchably warm and peaceful contentment. Therefore, any time I am in her sphere of influence, I make sure I throw her ball or her orange disk, rub her belly, hug her with all my strength, or whatever else the moment requires.

This late winter and early spring in Wisconsin have been short on moments of joy. An 18-inch snowfall on the third day of spring will put a damper on almost any mood, and the ghastly political puppet theater now in progress is so tiring that I will mention it here only to make my point.

But Willow has no such shortage. She pranced across the snowdrifts like a miniature whitetail deer, she plays hide-and-seek with the blue ball and whines impatiently when I haven’t found it yet, she is oblivious to the puppet theater, and she comes to me frequently with a look that seems to say, “Relax. Life is joyful. Just live it.”

And so I choose to raise my head and lift my spirits. They say when you have no control over externals, you still have a choice over your internal reaction. The choices are to laugh or to cry; I choose to laugh. The choices are grumbling through my work or pausing frequently to play with Willow; I choose the puppy. The choices are to sink into the mud or embrace the joy of the soaring eagle; I choose the sky.

I enjoy joy. And for my own mental health, as often as I remember, I choose joy.

‘There is no try’

“Do or do not. There is no ‘try.'” — Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

This little essay from Seth Godin is for everyone who has ever allowed themselves to say, “Oh, I could never do that …”

I will never be able to dunk a basketball.

This is beyond discussion.

Imagine, though, a co-worker who says, “I’ll never be able to use a knife and fork. No, I have to use my hands.”

Or a colleague who says, “I can’t possibly learn Chinese. I’m not smart enough.”

The plain and simple truth is that pretty much anyone — including you! — can accomplish pretty much anything he/she sets her mind to, assuming you are willing to put in the time needed to do it right.

Says Godin: “I have no intention of apologizing for believing in people, for insisting that we all use this moment and these assets to create some art and improve the world around us.”

This is a message that needs to be shouted, far and wide.

What can you do today to improve the world? Don’t even think about saying, “I can never …”

Spare me The Cloud

I’m not conceiving the advantage of life without a hard drive.

The Cloud seems to be the next stage in the evolution of digital life. Instead of keeping your data in your computer, the cloud hangs onto your software and everything that now is stored on your drive.

I guess the beauty is that if your computer crashes, all your “stuff” survives out there on the cloud. But if I crash and I lose my stuff, shame on me for not backing it all up. What if the cloud crashes? Can’t happen, they say. Yeah, but what if the cloud crashes? Remember a little unsinkable boat called the Titanic?

Yes, I’m a Luddite. I like the feel of a book in my hands, a specific and unique book, not a download onto an electronic pad. I like storing music on vinyl records where it can be mechanically reproduced, not as digital bits that can be scrambled. I like handling cash, and I feel a little cheated when my money all transferred via computer and plastic before I can actually see and feel it. And if I’m going to save my stuff as digital bits, I’d like to have physical possession of those bits, thank you.

Boo, Cloud. I don’t care if you allow me to watch the premiere of “Celebrity Probation” while I’m stuck at the airport. It’s just not the same as holding your stuff in your hands.

Charge ahead and write your own self-help book

Not long ago my old friend Wally Conger made a suggestion to his readers … or rather he passed along a suggestion from one of his heroes, Scott Alexander: Write a motivational book for yourself based on what life has taught you so far.

“Write down these stories and the lessons you have learned from them. Record your past feelings of desperation and how you picked yourself up. Put together a chapter on where you are heading. Think about all that you have done, the people you have touched, how your faith in God has been tried and tested, the times you cried, the times you laughed and all the love that you have won and lost. You are the sum total of all the experiences that you have had – good, bad and disgusting. It’s all you. It’s all good. …

“I officially declare you a motivational author – WRITE!!! Keep charging and you will keep adding material for future books. Never let an adventure go to waste.”

Wally asked: “Got a motivational book inside of YOU? I bet you do. And maybe someday you’ll be willing to share it with the rest of us.”

That was the day I started writing Scream of Consciousness. Like Refuse to be Afraid, it’s a short collection of essays, so short the audiobook will fit on a single CD. It’s about being alive moment by moment and letting your every expression be a joyful scream of consciousness.

I still have a handful of chapters to complete and some polishing to do, but I’m close enough that I wanted to give a shout-out to Scott and Wally for the inspiration.

And hey – if you haven’t found the inspirational book that really speaks to YOU yet, maybe it’s because you need to write it yourself! What are you waiting for?

(And for more from Wally and Scott, check this out.)

Three tenets to a true revolution

The three tenets of a peaceful life:

1. Love your neighbor as yourself.

2. Interact with love, not force, not violence.

3. Give more than you receive.

For three years, on and off, I have been writing a story about freedom and revolution, built around a character who has developed the name Raymond Douglas Kaliber. The three tenets are the essentials of his philosophy.

Based on Sirius IV – and therefore a very loose sequel to my first novel, The Imaginary Bomb – the tale follows a revolt against the tyrants who have attempted to rule from Earth, some 8.6 light years away. But as a wise and ancient songwriter said, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” A government established through violent overthrow of a repressive regime can only be repressive itself, as violence begets violence.

It was an Imaginary Revolution. My story tells how Kaliber created a new kind of commonwealth, based in his tenets of a peaceful life.

I can’t wait to share it. I see so much of Sirius IV every day in the headlines, and I wish I could see Ray Kaliber out there working already.