Fifteenkey

A place to indulge my narcissism... and write stuff...

Prince

12e6c4b0b9c7e1f289f36d2d85361a55I was going to write about why the death of Prince hit me, but it’s some of this:

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Yeah, too young to die, but another example of how it can happen in the snap of a guitar string. I can’t say I was a huge Prince fan. I own only one collection from the artist, but it’s a doozy – The Hits/The B-Sides. It opens with “When Doves Cry.” You know the lyrics.

Over the years I’ve seen my share of shows, but there’s only one artist I got shut out of. In March of 1985 at the Worcester Centrum I had a pocket full of dollars, but they were seldom used. There were no tickets to be had. That was at the height of his “Purple Rain” fame. That record opens with “Let’s Go Crazy.” So fun! “Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down? Oh, no let’s go!” You know those, too. Dude could write. One of my Facebook friends posted these words to express her feeling of loss:

I guess I should’ve known
by the way U parked your car
sideways
That it wouldn’t last

I finally saw the artist in 2004 at the Boston Garden or whatever it was called back then. It was a theater in the round show, and Jeff and I had sweet loge seats. What a show. Maybe the best I’ve ever seen, A 34 song set list including 9 in the middle by Prince alone on a stool with an acoustic guitar. He closed that nine with a cover – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. You know the words. Prince closed the night with “Purple Rain” and his guitar. Dude could play. After seeing the SNL tribute Saturday night I wrote:

If Michael Jackson could play guitar like Jimi Hendrix and write his own songs like Bruce… That’s Prince.

I guess that’s why it bothered me to see a Facebook post saying some crap about a celebrity death. The Kardashians are celebrities. Prince was an artist and his art made people sing and dance, think and cry. That matters in “a world that’s so cold.” Another friend said, “he hasn’t done anything since ’90!” Dude made 39 records. This is from 2014. Dude rocked.

180 degrees of separation

I wrote this April 9th, and tweaked it a bit on April 10th.

On October 9th, after 2 1/2 hours of a hydroplaning drive through a thick blur of rain, a dry martini and a Cosmo were ordered to get us down from Splash Stress Mountain. Returning from the boys room, I sat down, and before taking a first sip asked, “Are you happy with this thing we have going, because I’m not?” Quietly she said, “I know you’ve been unhappy.” And with that, some 20 years of my life invested in another was over.

There’s no blame here. We simply wanted different things and slowly those differences became irreconcilable. Unlike a marriage though, there was no untangling of assets or unpleasantries with lawyers. The next afternoon we has one last embrace, both said “l’m sorry,” and we just walked away. That was 6 months ago – a 180 degree spin around the sun. It was also the 6th anniversary of being back together in a relationship that began in 1995. Yeah, time can be perplexing.

I do miss her sometimes, and think of her often. I hope she’s ok. I’m not sad and have no regrets. I have a wonderful life and no complaints. Every day reminds me of practicing meditation. It’s simple really, but a continuous challenge. When I feel my “monkey mind” wandering, I simply stop, focus on what is, and begin again.

A millimeter of improvement

millimeterIt occurred to me last night that I’m no longer ruminating past events in my mind like an unsolvable Rubik’s cube. I am thinking about the future with some optimism, but mostly I’m just trying to be here now. Explorations on the nature of happiness and a consistent meditation practice (and it is practice because I’m still awful at it) are ongoing. I get about 3 to 4 focused breaths in and suddenly the to do list, some work thing, or wonder of who liked my recent Facebook post intervene. Practice… I’m able to catch myself and refocus on the breath, but the monkey in my mind is a persistent fellow.

swami_yoganandaFor a few weeks now, yoga has been added to the mental mix. Specifically, this routine and this one on the youtubes has got me going. I can do them now without Jen Hillman’s direction, and I’m hopeful that the little increments of improvement will add up to some lasting back pain relief, and being able to pull off this pose by the time I’m this guys age… Thanks Jen. Oh, and Megan bought a yoga wheel! As long as I don’t put myself in the hospital with that thing, I see it helping in the long term. That’s the thing with all of this… long term. None of this produces any overnight results. Whether it’s meditation or yoga, the improvements come millimeters at a time – but they do come.

“The very heart of yoga practice is abhyasa –
steady effort in the direction you want to go.”
― Sally Kempton

Happiness – Let it take a lifetime

happyToday is International Day of Happiness uh, Day. In 2013 the United Nations proclaimed it “to promote happiness as a universal goal and aspiration in the lives of people around the globe.” I don’t know why it should be limited to just us on this one tiny orb in the universe, but that’s a post for another day…

So… Are you happy? If so, how do you create it? If not, what’s keeping you from it? Even in the face of life’s sometimes horrible adversities, happiness is a choice.

My happiness quest began shortly after a happiness fall in the Fall. The meditation thing is definitely yielding benefits, but it takes work. That’s why they call it a “practice.” I don’t know about you, but it takes pretty intense concentration to shut up the voices inside my head even for a few minutes, but I keep at it and sense gradual benefits each day. I can’t say I’m “there” yet, and I’m not sure there is a “there.” You just keep trying, and don’t expect to become the Dalai Lama overnight. After a late night in Atlanta recently, my 6AM practice kept being interrupted by the image of a Starbucks cup… Hey, nutrition. Then about a month ago, someone cut me off on the highway. My initial reaction was not very Zen-like, but I caught and laughed at myself, then thought, “yeah, better keep at the meditation thing.”

I can’t say there’s one particular thing working for me, but I’m still listening to the podcasts previously mentioned, and based on my research the tips pictured above and listed here are solid. Here’s one thing… “Being in the moment” is supposed to be a key to happiness, yet it seems an elusive concept to many. It isn’t, but it does require some effort. For me sometimes it’s simply putting the phone down and experiencing life…

“Maddie just spent about 2 minutes explaining her elaborate leprechaun trap to me. I listened intently, watching her happy little face move and eyes shine as she spoke. When she finished, I noticed a smile had crept onto my face. Thanks baby.”

It’s your life. Just be there.

“I’m learning how to be alone. I fall asleep with the TV on
And I fight the urge to live inside my telephone
I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by
If it takes a lifetime” – Jason Isbell

Stillness through Space

MartianThis morning I’m surprised to discover this happened nearly five years ago. Suddenly last summer is five back. Time is a funny thing. Like life, it goes on. I’ll never forget that experience, and it occurs to me that tumbling down that rabbit hole is where I am now. Literally. You too. I mean we’re passengers on a rock spinning 25,000 miles an hour and traveling around the sun at 67,000 miles per hour… Oh, and the galaxy we live in… The Milky Way? It’s ripping through space at 1.3 million miles per hour. It’s amazing I can keep my fingers on the keyboard at these speeds. Still, there’s stillness to be found within, and that’s an interesting journey, too.

In spite of pursuing stillness and finding some peace, I’m feeling a bit untethered these days, like back in the gleaming steel tube. Will I be caught like Matt Damon at the end of “The Martian” or continue spinning through infinity?

I don’t know. I’m just enjoying the ride.

The Pursuit of Happiness

pursuit-of-happiness-300x300A few months ago, someone I love and respect said, “you just don’t seem like a happy person.” In the aftermath, those words continue to echo in the vast space between my ears. The words roll around like sneakers in a dryer, consistently thumping my attention. Over time, my YouTube search for things like “Physics and Ultimate Meaning” and “Why is There Something Rather than Nothing?way out there began to turn inward as I sought an answer to the more pressing question, “Am I Les Miserables?”

I’ve discovered there’s much scientific study behind happiness, and even a Cal-Berkeley edX course on the Science of Happiness I’m taking. I’ve also learned how meditation can physically alter your brain in positive ways! Oh, side note: Yoga was developed some 2,500 years ago as a way to warm up and prepare the body for meditation…

With all this discovery has come some actual practice. I can recommend two podcasts that I now begin each day with. First I spend 10-15 minutes with Mary Mechley’s Daily Meditation Podcast, followed by another 10 minutes or so with Dr. Robert Puff’s Happiness Podcast. I think how each end their podcast says a great deal about how to be happy:

“You are so worth slowing down for.” – Mary Mechley

“Accept what is. Love what is.” – Dr. Robert Puff

Speaking of meditation, Buddhist monks spend quite a bit of time practicing it and their positive results are indisputable. Monk Matthieu Ricard is sometimes called the “happiest man in the world.” Check out his 20 minute Ted Talk. Here’s a little sample of his insight to true happiness:

“So how do we proceed in our quest for happiness? Very often, we look outside. We think that if we could gather this and that, all the conditions, something that we say, “Everything to be happy — to have everything to be happy.” That very sentence already reveals the doom, destruction of happiness. To have everything. If we miss something, it collapses.

Desert Island Christmas Disc

Christmas CD 2004Recently my son Kyle and I were driving with a Sirius holiday station on. Suddenly I was hearing an awful Christmas song. I looked to see who it was, and a Grinch-like smile slowly grew on my face. “Kyle, this song is awful!” “Yeah, this song sucks,” he snapped. “Who is it,” I inquired. Kyle leaned forward and studied the screen. “Dad!” Suddenly Kyle thought better of the song by his favorite French diva. “C’mon Kyle, this is terrible.” “Yeah, it is,” he admitted and we shared a good laugh.

Why does every artist (well, many) have to put out their interpretation of holiday tunes? Nevermind. That was a rhetorical question. I know why, but why do so many of them suck? I think I could be quite content on a desert island with just these ten eleven. Yeah, that’s right. My list goes to 11. Back in 2004, the first year in our current home, I threw a Christmas bash and handed out a holiday CD favor to mark the year. Most of these were on it:

  • 2000 Miles – The Pretenders
  • Blue Christmas – Elvis
  • Do You Hear What I Hear – Perry Como
  • It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year – Andy Williams
  • Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms
  • Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee
  • Santa Claus is Coming to Town – Bruce
  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Judy Garland
  • Merry Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon
  • The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
  • White Christmas – Bing

Later on the ride we were digging on another holiday jingle, and I glanced to see who it was. To my surprise it was the Beibs doing “Mistletoe.” Nice job, kid.

Who would you kick off the island? Who would come ashore?

Merry Christmas

Merry Consumerism

advertisingThis time of year even the days have marketing names… “Black Friday.” “Small Business Saturday.” “Cyber Monday.” Every day is “PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST SPEND MONEY” day! Marketing is so out of control. Maybe the universe is getting even with me for marketing as a profession by inundating me with it as a concession.  We are bombarded with advertising like never before. It’s inescapable. Marketeers spend so that we spend. It’s the circle of consumer life.

“Marketers are expected to spend 540 billion
dollars globally on advertising this year.”
Ad Age – March 2015

My television viewing consists largely of recorded shows about the universe or the mind, and sports. The former I record and can fast-forward through the ads. The latter is a maddening barrage of ads intermingled with short bursts of actual sports. Let’s take football for example. There is one hour of play in a regulation game, yet broadcasts last about 3 ½. Here, try this. When there are two games on and one goes to commercial, switch to the other. Commercial. Or this. Scroll through the TV listings until you see a show you like. Click on it. Commercial.

Spend, Spend. Spend. It is our responsibility as Americans, and to do it by any means necessary, especially now.

The National Retail Federation expects sales in November and December (excluding autos, gas and restaurants) to increase 3.7 percent over 2014 to $630.5 billion. In 2014, Americans spent over  $50 billion just on Black Friday weekend, and we borrowed over $20 billion of that.

Running a deficit is the American way because we want what we want and we want it for Christmas.

This is from Wikipedia so do with it what you will, but “based on an analysis of Federal Reserve statistics and other government data, the average household owes $7,529 on their cards; looking only at indebted households, the average outstanding balance rises to $16,140. And over the holidays in 2014, those indebted households added an average of $986 to their cards…

No, this isn’t part of some liberal elite “war on Christmas.” It’s more a secular than religious holiday now anyway, with people of all faiths or none at all duking it out at Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving. I grew up Catholic, but put my faith in science today. Still, I learned enough about the real meaning of Christmas, and still hold on to it today:

Love.

Hope.

Peace.

May you all overindulge on that this year.

“Big Gubment,” Profits and Death

ronald_reagan_quoteLast week at the Reagan Presidential Library in California, the second Republican presidential debate of the 2016 election season featured most of the candidates attempting to channel their dead president, Ronald Reagan. As they slammed immigrants who have entered the US illegally and an actual diplomatic solution with Iran, they ignored that their hero signed a bill granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants and sold missiles to the same Iran that held 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days.

Those two little facts aside, perhaps the biggest legacy of Mr. Reagan is his deriding of “Big Gubment” as he put it. Yes, the gross national debt increased significantly under Reagan, from $995 billion to $2.9 trillion, but he still remains the right’s anti-government hero. Listening to today’s Republicans, we have to remove the “shackles” of big government so that businesses can thrive. In theory, “the market” will regulate businesses.

Let’s take a look at the news to see how “the market” is regulating behavior of some members of “Big Bidness:”

That’s just this week, folks. In my opinion, many private institutions have grown too big via years of merger and acquisition activity in all industries. Competition has lessened and that impacts pricing (higher) and wages (lower).

When candidates like Bernie Sanders says we need to “break up” the big banks, it give me pause because while the 2008 financial crisis almost took the global economy down due to high-risk profiteering gone awry, US banks still need to compete globally against huge banks in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere.

I don’t believe “socialism” is the answer in most markets, an exception being healthcare, but I think we need a more sustainable form of capitalism. We have limited resources, so the infinite growth of revenues and profits simply isn’t possible. We’re already hitting a resource wall with water in some geographies.

I don’t have an answer, but for now, maybe the human beings that make decisions like those by Volkswagen, Exxon and GM can make better ones and not knowingly kill people and potentially the whole planet.

Take me to church

coexist peace signYesterday I spent an hour in a Catholic church for a wedding of people I didn’t know. The groom is the son of Joyce’s high-school friend, so… Sometimes you do what you have to do. Then I saw the welling eyes of the young man watching his bride to be walking toward him, and I was all in. Keep it together, man.

Probably like “the most interesting man in the world,” I don’t go to church often, but when I do, I pay attention. Behind and above the altar was a circular stained-glass window of the “holy trinity,” the father, the son, and the holy spirit – portrayed in a peace sign. So that was cool. The church was filled with whitish people – Italians, French, Irish, Hispanic… From right to left, I’m sure they filled the political spectrum, too. The musicians were an Asian couple and a white woman playing a cello beautifully. The priest was black. At the reception a gay couple sat at an adjacent table. The brides “man of honor” was a gay (and very funny) man.

Back in church, I sat there with my five senses while the attendees knelt and recited old familiar prayers. It did feel strange to be one of very few not to walk the communion ritual, but I had no fear that my religious non-conformity would result in my beheading. As Reverend Mpagi spoke eloquently, I was not concerned someone would rise and shoot him for the color of his skin. The gay men in the room had nothing to fear and felt free to be who they are… Coexistence. Not too complicated.

One of the ceremony readings was about the god of that house, and his plea to “love each other.” Father Mpagi then spoke of “a love as strong as death.” That shook the cob webs of my thought. The ceremony and reception were well done. Our table-mates were cool people. The haddock was tasty. The bride sang like Julie Andrews. Joyce’s friend held court for cigars on the porch. Someone mentioned the Charleston shooting in our little group. I spoke of hearing that the daughter of slain 70-year-old Ethel Lance said to the killer, “I forgive you.”

Suddenly “a love as strong as death” made a little more sense.

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