The Lives you Sever to Save your Own (and Others).

“Are you done yet?”

I was kneeling. Looking up. At a shell. A skull with eyes. At ninety-seven pounds, mostly bones. Slumped in an ornate, chipped wooden chair I still own and stare at today. He still commands it. Owns it.  I can’t sit in it. After all these years. The chair frightens me.

dark chair

When he spoke, I remembered happily. I recalled the power. His presence. His flair. How strong he was. Even after cancer took 70 pounds away. Like a thief. Draining him. He was in a three-piece suit four sizes too big. We couldn’t alter clothes fast enough to keep up with the weight loss.

Yes,” he said. along with a tear. His. “I’m done.”

Water rolled down his face. Landed on our joined hands. I put my head in his lap. He stroked it. I told him I loved him. I didn’t want him to go. How can I convince him to stay. To change his mind. I would do anything. Anything. Wasn’t my love enough to keep him here?

Told me “it’s no big deal. You’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

Huh? I wasn’t going to be “fine.” I couldn’t “see.”  It was tough to ask the question and receive the answers I knew I was going to hear. But it was nothing less than I expected. I then understood how I needed to be strong. To help him move forward. Because I knew he wasn’t “done.” He had more to do in this life. It was a time. A snapshot of sweet surrender and acceptance. Still. Quiet. Like God was taking a photo of a moment for me. There was nothing else we could do. And surrender and acceptance are on occasion, not easy. Sometimes surrender and acceptance rips your heart out.

Through life you’ll need to sever lifelines to those who hold power over you. Those you love more than anything. Yet, they’re not there. Or here. And you can’t move forward. And last night I had a dream about dad. What he said to me that day in 1993.

His one last thought. Because he always had the last thought.  One lesson I’ll never forget.

He said: “Sometimes love isn’t enough.”

I literally carried him down the stairs. He let me. I know that was tough for him. Tough on his pride. But he let me. Because he knew I needed to. He spent years being the strong one. Carrying me. I rested him on the couch. The vigil began. He wanted to die at home. I made sure nobody would dissuade me from the mission. I held his hand as he slipped into a coma.

On a frigid, gray February day before he spent 48 hours dying on a couch, dad severed his lifeline to save me. Made me feel ok about his inevitable exit. At least he tried. He even worked a full day at the office before coming home and slumping in that damn chair. The death chair. Like it was no big deal. Close some car deals. Drive home. Die.

“I don’t want you to be done.”

But sometimes love isn’t enough. And you always want love to be enough.

Random Thoughts:

1). Some lifelines get severed carelessly. Why must they? What the hell stands in the way of happiness? There are people we should engage as friends, lovers, mentors, yet sometimes love isn’t enough. Respect isn’t enough. Something unspoken hangs like a deep cancer you can’t cut out so you decide to cut off. It’s easier – but is it the right move? Do you sit in the chair and say “I’m done?”

2). Some threads need to be severed so both parties can survive, move forward. And it’ll rip your heart out because you know the sever feels wrong. You lose a part of yourself when it comes to this cut. This one is gonna hurt. It’s going to take time to heal. But sometimes, love isn’t enough and it needs to be done.

3). On occasion the attempt to sever causes reflection. Do you really want this person out of your life? Is there an illness, an internal hemorrhage that can be healed? Is there some feeling other than love which blossoms health and unity? Or do you allow release? Do you move a person you love to another plane?

4). Be prepared to sacrifice yourself, go out on a limb, be cold. For resolution, or severing you’ll need to “prep” the area. Not easy. What is the catalyst that gets you to this point? It’s different for everyone. Dad knew when it was time. After all, it was going to be fine. No big deal, right? At least that’s what he said when I know it tore his soul to say what he did to me. He appeared strong, almost defiant, flippant? Just so I would have the balls to move forward. An ultimate sacrifice. Sometimes love is enough?

5). Don’t sit in the death chair. Until you’re ready. And you may never be ready. Surrender isn’t easy. Acceptance is worse. Understanding you have too much debt, or you suck at saving, or you can’t handle investing in stocks, or you got duped by a financial professional promising unrealistic returns, is a good first step. Accept and improve.

It was 1am. Dad woke out of his coma. Briefly. He moaned. The whites of his eyes turned blood red. He spoke to me one last time. He said – “you’re going to be great.”

I whispered in his ear. I had all these memories I need to share.

“Remember when my green Schwinn with the banana seat was stolen two hours after you  bought it for me? You came home and bought me another one.”

He grimaced. Maybe he smiled. Then he was gone.

He stopped breathing. I could still see the movement in his chest. It was his heart.

It was still beating. Fighting to stay. His body moved with the rhythm of it. Because of it.

He was strong that way. He needed to leave me a lasting impression.

I told him his love was enough. It was time for him to go.

Then the world stopped.

But I didn’t.

heart light

He wouldn’t accept it.

Rocking Chairs – 3 Ways to Preserve Them.

I wonder, on occasion, where we find our peace. How we shift back to center. How we remain sane.

How do we recover from what’s thrown in our path without falling over?

Insane

Some succumb. Throw in the towel. Others? Well, others find a way. They discover new methods to get their rocking chairs out of the rain. Protect their haven. Their own. All that they love and find of beauty. They find a way to protect. They teeter, but never fall.

You know them. They’re strong because they rock with the changes. They maintain a steady cadence. It’s a groove others see, admire, learn from. The rockers don’t realize how strong they truly are. But they are. It’s a sense of style, beauty, responsibility, slight humor, a smile. A dimple. A sparkle. It all works together.

chair

Set your chair. Look out. Dream of what you can become. Then get up. Do it.

“I miss my porch; now my rocking chairs get wet. I can’t protect them forever,” she said.

I was reminded today the key to sanity is to wobble a bit but to never lose sight of your core. Your center. Who you are. Where you want to go. You can hide your pain, suppress your happiness for so long. And then? You blossom. You emerge stronger. Nothing can stop you.

Random Thoughts:

1). It’s ok to seesaw a bit, but continue to focus forward. You know what it’s like to sit in a rocking chair. No matter how quickly or fierce you wobble, your eyes remain fixated. Forward. You never lose sight of what’s in front of you. The gaze is amazingly straight and balanced. Allow your eyes to waver, to move, align with the movement of the rocker, and it’s only a matter of time before you get sick, become off kilter. Remember to stay on message. Straight.

2). Understand how your emotions and your investment portfolio can teeter. The problem becomes when you can’t handle the swing. You take too much risk because you don’t fully understand your risk attitude. Your current broker or financial adviser is behind the times. Still using stale “risk tolerance” questionnaires to measure your ability to handle risk. Unacceptable. They’re plain ridiculous. Dated. Dig deeper into what makes you tick. Go to http://www.myrisktolerance.com and take the test. It’ll cost you $45. It’s worth the investment. Take the results to your financial partner and rock his or her world a bit.

3). Realize the rain is temporary. Storms pass. Another porch is built. The dry & clear returns. A fresh coat of paint makes things new again. Life is like that, too. I can see a new porch in her eyes. Her thoughts.

porch and chairs

It’s only a matter of time before you’re rocking again.

She looked away. She smiled. She looked at me. Said.

“I’ll have my porch again.”

I had no doubt.

The sun was out again.

Governing Money – Lessons from the “Governor.”

In a former life, the world before hell and earth went inside out, Philip Blake was a husband, father. I think he sold insurance (and wasn’t very good at it). He probably carried too much debt, drank too much  - I’m certain erectile dysfunction was a grim reality.

I bet he fantasized about having sex with the twenty-something barista at Starbucks or even worse - the overweight college dropout with crooked, yellowed teeth and soured look from behind the register at the local Piggly Wiggly convenience haven. In other words – HO HUM. Mundane. An existence we all mistake for a life because we were told that’s what life is, ya idiot. Or as a friend would say – lame ass!

And now?

He’s bigger-than-life in a world shrinking (literally) from decay. Ain’t that a bitch!

walking dead zombie A former insurance prospect? You betcha!

The “Governor” as he’s been proclaimed by the inhabitants of the fictional town of Woodbury, exists, rules, and on occasion, thrives (code for: gets some). You know what that means. Wink, wink.

It appears the whole end of the world thing has added pep to his step. He dons cool vests and brandishes a big-ass knife low on his hip. He’s handy with an automatic weapon. Yep - he’s discovered his true, higher calling, although the path he takes on occasion, would classify him as certifiably insane. Well, if the world was as it was, once upon a time - the one of sales calls, stopping for beer and milk on the way home to the mortgage payment; praying to get it up on a weekend for the wife he’s long tired of. But in this new world?

He’s the king, baby!!

the governor hip

The Governor appearing calm, collected in front of Woodbury residents. Notice the power stance (I’ve eaten a great breakfast at the coffee shop behind him and was able to leave town, peacefully).

But this new normal is truly abnormal. It requires a huge (over) dose of out-of-the-box thinking followed by unorthodox actions to keep him and his close-knit brood, alive. Fight or die. Stay alert because at any moment you may become a food source for ravenous, rotting flesh eaters and/or victims to the living who want what you have, what you worked so hard to build. All you possess can be gone in an instant. In this place, you fear the living and dead, equally.

His life demands tremendous inner reflection, strong leadership, a healthy dose of paranoia, an intense hunger for knowledge of the deademy (my zombie bon mot for enemy,) stamina, charisma, a penchant for strong tea, an instinct to survive and on occasion, cold-blooded murder of his own species (the living) which is an odd way to re-populate the planet. The deeper he believes in his mission to preserve what’s left of the human race, the more he perceives outsiders as threats. Appears almost everyone is an outsider.

fish tanks

The Governor laments the “experiments” that just didn’t work out.

The end of the world definitely raised his stature. Forced him to rise above. Imagine a former insurance hack re-born as a new-found savior. Only in the America of the living dead. Bittersweet (bloody) success. Climbing the ladder of what’s left of the human race.

The Governor fights passionately to protect what he’s re-created - a tree-lined, bucolic microcosm of once was; the time before this time or whatever this putrid shit is now. He preserves, behind big makeshift walls made of of fat tires and metal, the lives and well-being of his followers. The ones who still breath and don’t seek to eat each other.

In this Georgia sanctuary, residents adhere to daily routines like doing laundry, taking the kids to school and on occasion, they gather together to enjoy a hearty zombie gladiator fight in the center of a dilapidated makeshift arena. Hey, we must have our sports events no matter what, right?

Born from the imagination of master comic-book genius and creator of the concept for the hit show, “The Walking Dead,” Robert Kirkman’s “Governor,” is possibly one of the most complex characters to bridge the annals of comic and television history.

the governor walking dead

The Gov, played by Brit actor David Morrissey, in a pensive mood.

Something has gone dreadfully awry on the road to Woodbury (when it’s not dressed up for television this town is really the peaceful haven of Senoia, GA). You can see it in the eyes of the town folk. They’re scared of Philip Blake. Philip Blake who knocked on their doors once trying to push term insurance. In that old life, they didn’t open the door or got the dog to chase him. Maybe a family pet bit him.

I guess change happens when you can no longer self-regulate (or have no reason to try) - you create the rules, acquire minions to reinforce them. Ostensibly, a bit of sanity erodes as you’re tormented by the memories of those you lost, those you cherished, to wide-mouthed bites of growling corpses who drool black goo. When your back is truly against the wall – you shake things up.

Ponder the horror long enough and the snap-crackle in your mind ostensibly goes pop. You’re no longer who you were. The person inside, the one who worried about following the lawn fertilization schedule to the letter on weekends, is in a dark place now. Deader than dead.

The Governor has allowed the demons to occupy a great portion of his psyche and they rest on his mind on a full time basis. He can’t win against them any longer, so he commands them steer them to push him forward. Hey, when in Rome!

Black inside, tortured but he’s moving. Getting shit done. Every day.

He’s been re-shaped, reborn, by the end of the world he knew and the path he cuts to cling desperately to what was. After observing him you cannot decide who’s more rotted inside – him or the staggering corpses who meander around the parameter, tripping over debris, bumping into burned-out husks of rusted autos of drivers not lucky enough to escape from rotting marauders of warm flesh.

To the people he protects, the Governor is the best thing around. He’ll do whatever is necessary to guard his flock from strangers – living or dead – as long as they’re loyal. There’s something admirable about his rise to power, his grandiose vision to take back a human race most likely lost forever; yet, his actions at times are so horrific, his thought process so cold blooded, you almost wish to take your chances with the ghouls outside the walls of Woodbury.

He does have his heartwarming moments. Like when he talks soothingly to the chained and straitjacketed pre-teen zombie  who once was his daughter Penny. He keeps  her nestled in what appears to be a human kennel, deep inside his quarters. He brushes her hair (which falls out), sings to her.

Penny snarls and snaps at him as he releases the chained collar tight around her neck – her jaws make a  sharp snap sound, directed toward his warmth, like a blind ravenous canine searching for a steak in the dark. She’s so long gone, however. Yet, it’s Philip’s very last cling to hope, to who she was, the young life with so much potential she represented. Represents still, as he works with a genius professor geek deep in the bowels of Woodbury who works fervently to discover what makes these dead things tick. And perhaps, just perhaps, a cure!  He denies the fact there’s truly no cure for what ails precious Penny (except a bullet to the brain).

Penny

A heartwarming moment as Penny noshes on body parts of the once living who faced the Governor’s wrath. 

And if you watch AMC’s hit show “The Walking Dead,” you’ve been fascinated by the Governor and his actions. Why? Because you know (oh, you do), that you can go bat-shit wacko if faced with the same horrific circumstances. You would be altered in ways you cannot imagine. You would work effortlessly to cling to what was, because what was there and now is gone changes you. Lose enough people you love, then you tell me.

There’s a little bit of Philip in all of us. 

There’s a bit of anger, insanity, in all of us. 

There’s a bit of bad behavior where the living are slaughtered, the dead walk (figuratively) in all of us. 

There’s a bit of motivation to protect Woodbury, the safe haven, in all of us.

And when we sit alone and stew about this stuff, allow the demons to play handball against  our psyche, then we are no longer insurance salespeople, stockbrokers, artists, psychologists, the “sane” ones. We are indeed – governors.

Random Thoughts:

1). Construct the walls around you (carefully). Just be mindful of the materials you use. Employ love, civility, warmth and mix in a small dose of paranoia for those who attempt to enter your Woodbury. On occasion, you’ll let undesirables through however, do what the Governor does – dispose of them quietly and explain to yourself how that person, entity, drug, drink was endangering the lives of your minions (or brain cells).

2). Be open to what breaks your current mindset. Recently, I had a revelation after an e-mail exchange that allowed me to easily remove someone from my Woodbury. Realize that Penny isn’t gonna return, put your own back against the wall, get winded. Then wake up. Instead of changing for the worse (as you’ll see in the Governor in the remainder of season 3 and 4), bounce hard against that wall and propel forward. Philip Blake has been broken by the horror of his experiences. He had good intentions in the beginning, but something really bad happened along the way. Watch your path. Create guardrails to not veer off to blackness.

3). Don’t be afraid to retaliate now. As the economy improves, I’m personally seeing, hearing, about people breaking the chains of their old employer and discovering healthier ways to make a living. Something I predicted in my book “Random Thoughts of a Money Muse.” Check out the link below, here’s a blurb from a recent CNBC article outlining the trend:

The steady drumbeat of “you’re just lucky to have a job” that played through the recession is finally starting to fade and employees may be getting ready to say, “I quit!” and bolt for the nearest exit.

http://www.cnbc.com/id/100359891

Don’t feel bad – be slightly angry about how you’ve been treated. Rise above. You’re the Governor over your fate and as the economy slowly recovers, you should get your mental minions to focus on a brighter future.

4). Get shit done. Every day. For a time you’ll seethe, give yourself that. Then go ahead and continue to tend to your walls which surround the quaint town in your mind. Eat healthier, exercise more, find better conversationalists, seek friendships where you didn’t look before. Read a book. I’m reading Eckhart Tolle’s Stillness Speaks at this time.

5). Be bad. It’s ok. Just don’t appear to be above, criticize, or correct others. You’re not perfect and on occasion, you rot and stink worse than the walking dead. And your opinion is just that especially when wrapped in judgmental tone. You’re getting tuned out, too. Fast. The Governor has convinced himself that even the horrific things he does is for the good of his little community. He’s lost the ability to judge his behavior, self correct. You cannot do the same. Oh, unless the dead want to eat you. Then feel free. Have a glass of wine, a dessert, kick a wall (I accomplished all three last month).

6). Appreciate what you have. Now. Before the dead come back and the world goes to hell. Learn to appreciate those you care about. Feel good about your possessions; realize there’s a point when too many possessions eventually own you, especially if you’re taking on debt to “own” them.

7). Appreciate and gain protection. I know I’m making fun of Phil being a pain-in-the-ass insurance salesman in another life, but do not discount the need for life insurance. Bypass the salesperson. And think term insurance. It’s the cheapest, purest type of insurance. One of the best life free life insurance needs calculator out there is here:

http://www.lifehappens.org/life-insurance-needs-calculator/

For insurance quotes investigate http://www.selectquote.com or http://www.matrixdirect.com.

8). Know your enemies. Inside and outside your skin. Which emotions hold you back? Are there people in your life who do the same? Self assess, write it out, drink some strong tea or coffee and take some time to analyze. Then toss out of Woodbury, those threats to your well being.

9). Learn to let go. When the Governor lost his beloved Penny to a samurai blade to the head, you can tell how broken he was and about to become (terrific acting by Mr. Morrissey). You need to let go of what’s dead already. A love, a longing, a feeling, a thought, a friend, a lover, an actual shopping cart with wheels that work at the supermarket. Learning to let go means less stress. Laugh more.

10). Stand like the Governor. I mean it just looks cool, right? Hands on hips. Your body language says a lot about you.

DSC_0370

The set of “The Walking Dead.” Note the tire, metal walls. Also, the building in the background (with ladder) was the place where the Governor & Michonne fight was filmed. 

11). Don’t lose yourself in anger and regret. With his beloved Penny gone, the Governor has lost all hope (and sanity). He is consumed with the torment that goes along with surrender of the traits which make one human. And a white-hot anger about his failure to protect Penny was enough to break his sanity. Regret and anger has now overwhelmed every thought, each motivation. Perhaps a cure against living death was close.

It didn’t matter now.

It was sweltering on the “set” of Woodbury during Season 3. Then he emerged. Walking behind us. David Morrissey. In his cool signature Governor vest. Carrying a script.

When I asked my daughter why she sat off to the side instead of joining me in a discussion I was having with him, she said bluntly:

“Dad he scares me. He’s the Governor.”

Comic Gov

The Walking Dead comic-book version of the Governor.

Impressions are everything.

Aren’t they?

From mental imprints, projections are born.

Out of grief.

Fear.

Anger. 

Regret.

Don’t let them consume you.

Work to break free.

Today.

I have faith.

You’re not the Governor.

A new season of “The Walking Dead” begins October 13, on AMC – 9pm/8pm CST.

 

Sometimes the Gifts you Seek…

The van was rust. Well, mostly rust. Rust colored.

rust

When the 1984 Dodge “classic” stopped, the squeal from metal on metal, lack of brakes, compelled me to look out my driver’s side window. The piercing noise caused me to wince. And it pissed me off.

Sitting there, in my car, at a Valero, rummaging for change, texting a friend, I can see this bag of Detroit bones, held together by some form of metal miracle, had stopped perpendicular and was there just for me.

Oh joy.

I knew I was lingering at the auto vacuum/air oasis, off in a corner, way too long. It’s that time of year when idling more than three minutes anywhere attracts beggars like a gunshot on “The Walking Dead,” attracts well, the walking dead.

“Sir, are you going to use the air?”

I grimaced – Wondering what the catch was. He continued.

“If you are, can I please pull in behind you? I just want to use the air you don’t use. My tire is really flat and I don’t have enough money to pay for air. I just used my last dollar on gas.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m here to use the vacuum.”

The little black man hobbled away politely. I pulled my eyes away. Before I did I noticed the blue handicap parking tag dangling from the rearview window. Figures. I continued a text where I left off…

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

Recently, I visited a friend at her fashion boutique. She was showing me a couple of gifts received from a friend. Simple gifts to say the least. I sort of stared at them as they occupied the floor space of a back office.

First was a wine-bottle lamp. Complete with cute burgundy lamp shade.

Second was a, how can I describe it, a real Charlie Brown-type Christmas tree. It was centered in criss-crossed wood and black tape secured it to the base.

photoWell here it is.

I  looked down. I stared again. I raised my eyes. We looked at each other. I shrugged. Overall, it’s been a strange holiday season. Gifts given, others taken away. Some still linger like ghosts which thrive in the white of tiny Christmas lights. And when they twinkle another gift of pain has been successfully delivered. Happy holidays!

drunk christmas A reasonable alternative to holiday parties.

This time of year, gift giving is in. The rest of the time, we truly don’t give a damn. Most of the year we gift heartache, turmoil, disappointment, but in a strange way, aren’t they gifts too? Not pretty. No ribbons. Like receiving a gift of soul shrapnel you swallow and then your inner self shits blood for days.

And blood for days can lead to blood for months, years, decades. As long as your memory remembers the pain. You bleed. Yet, there’s a blessing in this blood. When you step back, there’s always a release and then joy in the blood of bad gifts. Sooner or later you clot, or die. Decide.

Random Thoughts:

1). Wrapped in every life lesson, even a bad one, there is a gift. It doesn’t feel that way at first. Over time, as your heart takes the pain to dull throb, you begin to analyze the true reason behind the offering you received.

2). Wrapped in every small gift, there’s a big message. The best gifts you can share are also the least expensive. They are created from thought, kindness, rememberance, respect, bonding. We’ve lost the ability to communicate. We’ve found a way to cut people out of our lives through electronic channels. We say goodbye using e-mail and text. Our voices are dead. Bring the gift of your voice back. Empathize. Be human again. Talk. Discuss. Debate. Converse. True gifts. Gifts of self. Gifts of thought.

3). Gifts can be taken away in a moment. A special gift received can be taken away when you least expect it. Pulled from you. Taken. Never forget a gift of a moment, especially now that you realize it may quickly disappear.

4). All gifts from ex-lovers, ex-friends, ex-inner circlers (is that a word, who knows) should be trashed, donated or returned. Or a combination of the previous. Charitable donations are preferable, you may receive a tax deduction. Make someone else happy from your grief. You’ll feel fulfilled. Trashing is fun too if you can smash the sentiment first. A combination always works best for me.

5). Watch the re-gift. Never re-gift the pain, disappointment or baggage you’ve received from another or caused to yourself. Never re-gift an image of what you think another person should be, just because you believe it should be. Never re-gift guilt, betrayal. Start fresh and gift good things.

6). Never forget: The gifts you seek or want, are most likely the gifts you don’t need. You just think you need them. Time will prove how what you want or desire may actually be poisonous to your soul (there’s that bleeding thing again.)

Back to the vacuum and the car mats. The hobbly man pulled in behind me, obviously to use the air. He got out of the rust bucket. He began to wobble over to me. Here we go again.

“Sir, I just wanted to thank you for the two dollars for the air. You’re a real life saver. Nobody really cares about people anymore, so thank you. I didn’t think you were going to give me anything.”

“I wasn’t. I changed my mind,” I admitted. I went back to the mat-sucking business aware that my vacuum time was about to run out.

“Hey, I really like your car. Your car is my dream car.”

I stopped and looked him in the eyes.

“My car is your dream car?” I said, sort of amused. “A 2009 Nissan Maxima is your dream car?”

“Oh yea, it’s a beauty. I had a Nissan a long time ago. Those things really move. Well, have a good day sir. God bless.”

For a measly gift of two-dollars, I was given a gift. A gift of perspective. The realization that I should be thankful for what I have in the present and not sorrowful for the gifts I lost.

My dollar ran out.

I didn’t care anymore.

I stood there.

I felt a breeze on my face.

Awaiting the next gift.

ugly gift

 

Visualizing the Sole of Retirement – Do you own Retirement Shoes?

For a majority of workers, retirement is an ethereal concept. It has no real presence, density or visibility. There are several published studies available that outline how for many, retirement, especially after the economic drubbing of 2008, remains a misty pipedream, or at the very least postponed well past normal retirement age of 65 or 67. For those in their twenties and thirties, it feels even more nebulous and approaching the topic seems fruitless; retirement doesn’t appear on the financial radar for this group.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute, an institution providing objective, nonpartisan information surrounding employee benefit plans since 1978, conducts annual surveys designed to capture the pulse of Americans saving and preparing for retirement.

Specifically, their Retirement Confidence Survey is one of the longest-running public opinion studies of its kind on Americans’ attitudes on retirement and savings: The survey for 2010 reports that fewer workers and/or their spouses have saved for retirement – 69 percent, down from 75 percent in 2009. Also, fewer workers say they are currently saving for retirement (60 percent down from 65 percent in 2009). As if this wasn’t troubling enough, many workers continue to be unaware of how much they really need to save. Less than half those surveyed report they have even tried to calculate how much money they’ll need to have accumulated by the time retirement comes around.

With rates of return muted and people living longer, the pot of money needed to sustain a comfortable retirement needs to be greater than almost any other time in history. There has been a marked decrease in the younger set saving for retirement. In the year 2000, 75 percent of surveyed workers aged 25-34 reported saving for retirement; in 2010 the number hovers around 58 percent.

For those 35-44 the percentage of workers who said they saved for retirement in 2000 was a healthy 83 percent; in 2010 the number falters to 61 percent. If these trends continue, the majority of Americans will face a formidable retirement lifestyle crisis. As I ponder this dilemma I realize we all need to find a way to bring the retirement future into the present so the pain or pleasure we may experience is real and in the now.

Having 20 years to retirement myself made me understand I needed to make the next stage more real for me too, but I didn’t know how to go about it-then the shoes came along. These aren’t ordinary shoes mind you-there are memories deep in the soles.

When I was 8 years old I received my first pair of Hush Puppies. I was a lemming to advertising as a kid so when I saw the Bassett Hound mascot at a young age I was hooked. I drove my parents crazy. I had to have them and begged relentlessly. My father gave in one Saturday and purchased a dark suede-like pair of paradise for me and I wore them proudly for years, making sure to keep them as pristine as possible for as long as possible.

I drove my parents nuts about many things like only eating the bacon with the “Indian head” on the packaging, but that’s a story for another time. A year ago it happened. After all this time I bought a pair of Hush Puppies. Black suede-like material and the memories came back brighter than ever. After I slipped them on and realized how comfortable the shoes were, I wondered why I waited all these years to buy a pair.

How much bacon can one man eat?

Perhaps I just figured Hush Puppies weren’t made for adults. How silly. These things are so comfortable I can’t imagine not wearing them well into the future. And then it hit me. While on the phone with a special friend who tends to inspire me often, the idea took over.

It hit me so hard I needed to find a place to pull off the road and quickly record my revelation: At age 47, I purchased my retirement shoes. Ok so not literally; I don’t believe the shoes are going to endure that long. However the comfort I felt was something I knew I wanted to experience well into the decades. I was able to actually make a purchase today that pulled a future into the present. I realized then how all of us, regardless of age, need to make a purchase today of something we can imagine using through a different lifecycle years away and to use that good feeling to motivate us to save more for the future.

So, where are your “retirement shoes?” Have you thought about it yet? Here are some steps to take (no pun intended) to make a purchase that may alter your thinking and cushion the blow (pun intended) when retirement is the present situation: They don’t need to be Shoes and Expensive is Not Part of the Plan – Don’t use this exercise as an excuse to make a high-end luxury purchase. This is all about comfort, not cost. Keep it under $100 dollars. Someone I know bought a plain-vanilla pair of cotton sweatpants.

Random Thoughts:

1). As early as Tomorrow Increase your Retirement Savings by 1 Percent – Don’t think about it, just do it. Begin by increasing the salary deferral percentage in your company retirement plan or set aside the money on monthly autopilot in a traditional or Roth IRA. It’s not the amount, it’s the exercise.

2).  Visualize the Comfort – Walk a mile in the shoes. Use the blanket, wear the pants, read the book, eat the candy. Close your eyes and attempt to fool your mind into believing retirement is here and enjoy the comfort today.

2). Don’t Forget to Add more Comfort Items Later on – I don’t know what will compliment the retirement shoes, but I’m going to keep a keen eye out. So should you. I have a favorite website for comfort items. Take a look: http://www.vermontcountrystore.com. Time goes by quicker than you think.

3). Think Comfortization – a combination of comfort and visualization may be just what you need to jumpstart your thinking. Sounds funny, but spending a little today may help you save more for a better tomorrow.

4). Comfortization Goes Deeper than you Think – Let’s face it. You may never retire. Studies show how those between the ages of 55-64 hold roughly $45,000 in retirement plan assets, which is $3,000 lower than 3 years ago. Comfortization may be facing the fact that you need to make a change now, a big one, in your life. Forget retirement. If you make $100,000 at a job you despise and you’re never going to retire anyway, why not make $50,000 doing something you love and enjoy it since you may spend more time working than relaxing in retirement? Perhaps working at what you love is the new retirement?

Today, I’m seeking my retirement Christmas tree. It’ll be made of tinsel, you know the real stuff that cuts your fingers without you realizing it. Along with one of those vintage color wheels. Old school. I plan to stare at this tree reflect pretty colors as I drool into my lap.

I want to slip off into the next journey, under this tree. Staring as the colors change above me.

I bet that’s what heaven or retirement is really like.

The First of the Day: How to be Born Again in the Present.

There are quite a few inspirational books around-one being Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of The Now,” which extolls how one must live in the present (the now) to be fulfilled, happy, less in a state of anguish. The more time I spend with these sage teachings, the more time I take to fully absorb the lessons, the more I realize how living in the present is the only way to live.

I’ll explain.

The past is a heavy dumbbell that positions itself in the center of your mind and eventually finds a home someplace deeper. And the weight is there: All the time. It presses. Feels like a thousand pounds. Dragging you down. The past nurtures fear, resentment and ostensibly works to stifle your creativity, your spark. Plainly, it’s exhausting to relive the past. Heck, I’m still reliving moments from 30 years ago and when consumed by the past, I’m tired enough to sleep for days.

Being overly worried about the future is a waste of mental and physical resources, too. As then happiness, your state of mind, virtually depends on some perfect future confluence of events. You’ll create and be bound by rules. From the outside, some of these rules will appear overwhelming, debilitating. Not to you, though. To you, the hurdles formed are just fine (but they’re not).

 “I’ll be happy; I’ll be satisfied, if and when this or that occurs.” This is no way to exist.

After all, how long before the present becomes the future? Think about it: So, today is Tuesday. The future is Wednesday. Ok, so I’ll be happy Wednesday because of _____.  Then Wednesday comes around and without a doubt, you’re fretting because it’s not Thursday! The future is a torturous, seductive mind loop made of insecurity, negativity and conditional happiness. It’s the cerebral version of the hamster wheel. Not productive. You’ll be stuck in the muck of a world that’s not yet arrived. And then never arrives.

Ignoring the beauty of the present or not truly realizing you live and breathe in the present, in the now, is a waste of mental resources and sometimes it’s a waste of financial opportunity. Avoiding the present destroys fulfillment, creativity and happiness in daily accomplishment.  The present is really all you have when you truly think about it. The current moment is everything. What will you do with it? How will you make the most of the now, right now?

The shackles of the past release you in the now; the rules, conditions, and burdens of the future don’t exist either. You’ve given yourself permission to fly. Tolle teaches how the ego is the culprit. It’s primarily a dysfunctional, festering cerebral offspring that won’t go. Won’t give you a moment’s peace. The human ego is the mechanism which feeds off the carcasses of your past and then sets unrealistic guidelines for your future. The ego is the heaviest link in your misery chain. The ego can destroy or stand in the way of your wealth building activities.

“The ego’s needs are endless. It feels vulnerable and threatened and so lives in a state of fear and want. The ego is always seeking for something to attach itself to in order to uphold and strengthen its illusory sense of self, and it will readily attach itself to your problems. This is why, for so many people, a large part of their sense of self is intimately connected with their problems.” Tolle.

I get puzzled looks when I discuss this stuff: “Rich, you’re a money guy. A financial planner. You’re obsessed with the future and you explore the past. How much money will you need in retirement? What happens to your family’s finances if you become disabled? Do you have enough insurance coverage on your home or auto? What were your first experiences with money? Plus Rich, I know you: You have a HUGE ego. I mean really BIG: Aries BIG!”

True words. But. As I must keep an open mind when assisting those in my client family, I understand how I’m responsible for interpreting present conditions, mine and those of the ones I serve, to truly forge an appropriate financial path. For me, keeping an open mind to the input of the now has brought about a state of enlightenment, of ideas, exercises, and words that have been helpful to many. Being in the present also helps me see whether a financial path needs to adjust or change altogether. I have worked to train myself to remain in the present. Relish in its beauty and teachings. Being fully absorbed in the moment is crucial. It’s no longer a focus on money mistakes of the past or flowery overarching statements of future financial success.

Like:

“Picture yourself on some beach, relaxing in retirement. Toes in the sand. Let us worry about your money.” Financial Firm Speak 2012.

Too much picture of the future. Not enough vision of the present. It’s easy to fall for false promises because the weight of the future is just too stressful. Flowery images of the future are not going to get you where you need to go. Plus, I’m customarily skeptical of any financial entity that advises me to “let them worry about it.” If it’s my money, if I built the wealth, then it’s because I did worry about my money. I’m still going to worry about it. I want you to worry about it WITH ME.

To become a master of your financial path, embracing the present is a necessity. And since your ego is not permitted to flourish in the now, your thought process will be clearer, you’ll be receptive to change, and willing to alter the behaviors which have prevented you from increasing your net worth.

Random Thoughts: The Ways of the Now:

1). Drop your Current Financial Advisor. I heard a financial person on local radio make a statement that irked me recently. He said, “the future will be better for stock investing.” And as I listened I could tell immediately his statement was not backed by any formidable research done in the present. If stock investing is indeed going to be better in the future, then I guess you should stay fully invested until that magic moment occurs (whenever that is).

 If the yet to come is going to improve for stock investing, or any type of investing, then in essence, I’ve possibly wasted my present (and maybe my money)  by not accepting the conditions that exist today. Any advisor who tells you the future will be better (or worse) for any style of investing or a specific asset class of investment, should be ready to offer the evidence that helped him or her decide on the outcome. It’s fair if the assessment is based on homework. You can choose to agree or not.  And the evidence must come from origins other than an employer’s in-house research department. Your advisor needs to do his or her own homework, unshackled by the biases of the research created by an employer. If not, in the present, it’s best to find a different advisor to guide you.

 2). Fully Absorb in the First Expense of the Day. No matter what that first purchase of the day is. A cup of coffee, lunch, a newspaper (who buys actual newspapers anymore?), gum,  I want you to write down the why behind the purchase. How did you make the purchase, cash or credit? As of today, can you stop this purchase from becoming a habit or stop if it is a habit, already? What was the motivation for that first purchase? Were you stressed? Tired? Analyze the present. Can you go an entire day without making a single purchase? A week? Try it. Think twice in the now before you make a first purchase of the day.

3). Become a Financial Sherlock Holmes. Scrutinize daily actions, your financial habits, from the perspective of the present. In the recent film, “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” Robert Downey, Jr. as the super sleuth is asked: “What do you see?” He says: “Everything. That’s my curse.” Well, is seeing everything (in the present), becoming fully aware of your current environment, really a curse? Focusing on the now may save your life. Your activities today matter most, especially when it comes to money behavior. What you do today forms the foundation of success or failure in the future. You and your advisor or a trusted partner must confront what’s happening in your life now which prevents you from saving more of your income, paying down debt, seeking a better job, and moving away investments laden with higher-than-average fees or commissions.

4).To Fight Behavioral Pitfalls you must exist in the Now.  Your ego: One of the most lethal enemies of good fiscal health. A healthy ego can lead to bad financial behavior. It seduces you with sweet lies. It tells you you’re greater at investment selection (and everything else) than you really are-makes you overconfident in your investing skills, anchors you to the price paid for a losing investment.  For example, maintaining a losing position until it returns to the original purchase price “in the future,” is a very common investor mistake. And the opportunity cost can be enormous.

Tough to believe-there are investors who are still convinced that the Cisco stock (CSCO) they purchased in 1999 for $160 a share will return to that price (in their lifetime). And it’s been 13 years! Talk about chained to the past!

Holding on to a concentrated stock position (one that makes up 25% or more of your portfolio), solely due to an emotional attachment (it happens more often than you think), is a mistake when you focus on the past. Perhaps you inherited an investment from a loved one or possess an overweight to a stock of the company you retired from after 15 years.  Living in the now breaks the chains of the past. In the now, you can research an investment and be free of emotion doing it. Is the investment as good as it was years before? My life is different in the present, so perhaps I’m more vulnerable to risk if I don’t sell down this position?

Living in the now doesn’t mean you should be short-term trading your portfolio, either. It’s about stepping back, slowing down time and digging deep into your money mental makeup. If anything, being aware in the present will prevent you from overtrading your accounts.

5). Immediate Gratification was really Future Gratification. I know. You’ve been told that one of the primary reasons for over indebted households was the desire to consume. Let’s face it: We love stuff. And we used credit and home equity to purchase all that stuff. I argue that when you were making the decision to purchase that big-screen HD television and surround-sound system you were fixated solely on the future. First, you pictured yourself the following Saturday, sitting and watching an endless stream of Blue-Ray movies, even the ones you weren’t really fond of in the first place (they must look better on a new television). Second, you figured there were better times ahead and your house would continue to increase in price. Third, you thought a pay raise was imminent even though perhaps the future had different plans for you.

There is something revolutionary about this power of now. Why didn’t I come across this wisdom twenty years ago? Oh that’s right: The past is dust, the future is myth. The present is here.

How will you deal with the real of now?

Stop Thinking Now – 3 Ways to Shut Down and Live Again.

“Death is a stripping away of all that is not you. The secret of life is to “die before you die” — and find that there is no death,” Eckert Tolle.

Reliving the past is draining. After I recall memories of the past to write a blog in my present, I can feel brain cells dying. I can sleep for two hours. The world loses color like I’m living in a black & white movie. Everything becomes one dimensional. The spirit and gift of the present-gone.

Focusing on the future and where you want to be is exhausting. And then when the future becomes the present you can’t enjoy it and you’re edgy-ready to focus on the future again. It’s the fucking hamster wheel of our nature but then sooner or later the hamster dies and the mate in your Habitrail feeds off your carcass.

It’s time for you to live in the present. Shake off the past. Fuck the future. You’re alive right now. Today. The present is a beautiful thing. Focus on the moment. Stare at your boss for an hour and realize the type of asshole you deal with on a daily basis. In the present. Get angry.

Ain’t it the truth?

Yes, you’re brain dead but the mind wheel keeps spinning. And you’re getting nowhere. What the hell is going on?  You see, corporate America has figured this out about you so they paid you to run on the wheel.  Underneath it all they don’t truly want you to stop either. They don’t want you to take vacation or get sick or pick up your kid at school.  Then, after the financial crisis, they discovered you were willing to run harder even when they had decided long ago, to never give you another pay increase. And now that you still (run) like the wind, I’m convinced you’re never going to see another raise.

Corporate drones have been trained to forget the past. Your past performance. The revenue you created, the account you saved, the lunch you didn’t take, the extra 10 hours you worked last week? Old news. What have you done for me today? Right now. I need a report at noon about deals you closed between 8-11am.  My goal was (is) to serve people, not shareholders.

What are you doing reading this blog when you could be making another phone call? In an odd way, I admire middle management’s ability to look in the face of a solid employee, a decent employee, a loyal employee and deliver with a straight face: “I need to make a case for your job TODAY. EVERY DAY. I admire upper management’s ability to get middle management to deliver the message with straight faces.

How fast can you run the wheel on Thursday compared to Wednesday?” You see, job security is a memory too. Frankly, the case your supervisor is making is to keep his or her job. If it’s down to your job or the supervisor’s, you’re gonna lose. In the present. Right now. You. Loser.  So many hamsters eager to take your place. They breed like crazy those hamsters.

Publicly-traded (stock exchange) corporate america has grabbed the brass ring of the present. How about you? What have you grabbed? Circles under the eyes?

Corporate drones make promises for the future. Corp America also knows you’re a sucker for a good story. A better future they’ll help you achieve: There’s the carrot dangling that promises a raise in the future, more employees in the future so you’re not doing the work of three (yet your impossible goals haven’t changed). You’ve heard the stories: If we can increase revenue by 1,000% ( a “reasonable” goal today)  we can “make the case,” for paper clips.

All these carrots swinging in the wind of the future. Think about it. How many of these motivators have you actually been promised since 2010? How many of these carrots have you actually savored since then?  I’m thinking you got your blessed paper clips. Maybe. What was the real price you paid for them? Go ahead: Sell your soul for a highlighter next. Corporative executives, shareholders, have realized as you observe the neighbor next door and across the street lose jobs, they own your present. They will keep you from your family and your life even though they promote your well being through health programs.  And if you give up your present, (like no summer vacation with the kids but they’ll send you photos), the future is going to be so much brighter for you, right? But is it? Why would it be? Please understand now, in the present, those promises are false because when the future is now, your past performance earlier than the previous week (day) will be long forgotten. It’s not you. It’s them. Short-term memory leads to long-term profits.

Random Thoughts:

1). Understand your Now. In all fairness, not every company exhibits this behavior. As I follow trends, I interpret the general themes of the times, the present. This theme is prominent and disturbing. It’s up to you to objectively assess your present and if this is your situation, how do you change it? Are you happy in your present? How does your family feel about your slavery to shareholders? Ask them. If you’ve been experiencing this dilemma then you know the harmful impact there’s been to your spirit and possibly your physical health.

2). Drop the Past. Take a lesson from the company! Your past is a drag on you. Promises made to you will not be fulfilled. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Hold it for 20 seconds. Imagine your past is dead. Die before you die. Allow the image of the carrot to disappear. The carrot is in you, by you, from you.

3). The Future is a Seductress. How long is it before the future is the present and you’re still stuck in the same place? On the wheel. Stale carrots replaced with new carrots that you’ll never have an opportunity to bite. The future is today. Understand the environment. If you must run the wheel due to financial obligations, try to form a game plan for exiting the wheel. I’m not saying it’s easy. However, if you want to live, it could be necessary. Your entire life may depend on it.

I’m reading Eckert Tolle daily. Pick up “The Power of Now,” it will help you understand.

“And sometimes I actually start to think human life is just as cheap to corporate America as animal life, so long as there are big profits to be made.” Tom Scholz.
How will you enjoy your present, forget the past and ignore the seduction of the future?

I found your corporate head shot!

The Life In The Mirror. 3 Ways to Save It.

I bolted. Ran out the door. Down three flights of stairs. 3am. Screaming. For a Brooklyn street it was eerie quiet. Dark. Street lights out. A desperate sprint. In pajamas. To the only pay phone close by. Would it be working? It had to be the most vandalized pay phone in the city. Odds weren’t good.

Directly across the avenue from Harold’s Pharmacy.

Neon beacon in the night. Still around.

It was a shabby three-room apartment in a pre-WWII three-story walk up.  But it was shelter. That’s all I cared about. It was my world for a time and to me it felt big when things were good and amazingly small and cloying when things were bad.

Lately it felt as if I was living on a pin and the head was about to run out of room.   For an old building, the steam heat worked amazingly well. New York cold was occasionally harsh, so I was grateful. Turn the valve for the first time and the radiator clanked and clunked loud like an old car starting up after a long hibernation. Steam heat smelled good to me. Like a change of season coming. Only because there were summers. Rough summers. Rough seasons overall. This summer was a scorcher. Hotter than usual. It was ready to crescendo to one of the most memorable electrical blackouts in New York City history.

Two weeks before it felt as if I leaped from the heat right into the fire. A life or death decision flare up. A three alarmer. I wasn’t mentally ready to play God, but God didn’t seem to give a shit. I was in the intense heat of a crossroad on fire. I needed to make a move. Otherwise someone was gonna die. I remember thinking: “I’m too young to be dealing with this shit.”

Is it really worth growing older? I ponder this question.

Mom & I alternated use of the only bedroom (for sleeping. Me anyway.) One night couch (no sleep), next night bed (sleep). There was this full-length mirror. I recall dad cursing, fighting to secure the clunky structure to the hall-closet door. It was his good deed. Got mom off his back. And he wasn’t very good at chores around the house.     If  the closet door was open just right, I could get a full view of the kitchen as it reflected into my line of sight. From the bedroom.     Since mom always seemed to gravitate to the kitchen especially late, the reflection in the mirror of her her pacing back and forth would always wake me.  Prevent me from staying asleep. My habit was to wake, look in the mirror, turn over. Eventually,  I was forced to get up and close the door so I couldn’t see what was going on. Back to precious sleep time. It was my turn to have the bed, dammit!  The night before she destroyed the red trimline phone. The entire phone right down to the wall. And beyond. R.I.P. trimline.

10pm: Wake up. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. More beer I was sure.  Midnight: Wake up. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. Heavy drinking binge. Turn over. 2:30am: Wake up. Turn over. Look in mirror. See kitchen. Fridge door open. Again? Or Still? Weird.

I was mad. So mad. Until I saw. Mom on the floor. On her side. Tangled in the phone cord. Her head literally inside the bottom shelf of the fridge. I picked her up from the shoulders. She was so cold. Her joints were stiff. She was a 100-pound human accordian who wouldn’t unfold. I thought this was how rigor mortis started. Yet she was alive. How could that be? Stll breathing. Her breath was far from normal. Shallow. Her tongue shriveled. Mouth open wide. Lips colorless, perhaps light blue.  I was in a panic. Half asleep. My mind reeling.

Then suddenly, I was overcome with calm. I sat on the floor. Staring at her. Thinking. I watched mom’s small chest closely as it went still for longer on the exhale. Then her machine started up again. I was waiting for stillness. Perhaps hoping for it. I was at a crossroad. I knew I was. It was the power to make a decision that would change everything.  An inside voice was talking. One I never heard before. It kept asking. Slightly teasing. The repetition of the query felt forbidden. But it continued.

Does she live or die?

Would it be humane but inhuman just for me to return to bed? She had lived such a horrible life so far. Mom was 35 but looked twice that age. Especially now. On the floor. I sort of understood the weight of what was unfolding in front of me.

I knew my path, my karma, my thought process would be shaped, or changed forever perhaps in a way I wasn’t sure I could live with.

I rose. Moved strangely calm, to the hall mirror. Stood there. Staring at myself. So many questions rolled through my head.

Would I look the same in this damn mirror tomorrow if I decided just to leave her there? She would most likely be dead in a few minutes. Was I supposed to find her? Was there a higher power guiding me? Was the mirror the conduit for the message?

What if I woke up just 5 minutes later? Then I wouldn’t need to deal with a choice like this. And why was this even a choice for me?

Was the phone, now ripped from the wall, dead, a sign? Why was I given the responsibility of dealing with this situation? I never asked for this challenge.

Random Thoughts:

1). Seek Out Your Mirrors. When up against the wall, at a crossroad, what decisions will you make? Would you be able to live with them? How would you go on? I’ve trained myself to ask tough questions and imagine how I would respond. What if I had a life-threatening illness, lost a leg, lost a loved one to tragedy? How would I appear in the mirror. My actions would shape my image.

2). Be Open to Reflection. Never question why a challenge, a person, an illness, an opportunity, a setback gets thrown in your life path. It was placed there from an energy source  you’ll never be able to explain or fully understand. Signs are all around you if you just let go of skepticism. Stay open minded.  What does your life mirror reflect upon? Whose life remains in the balance once you open your eyes, mind and heart to the signs?

3).  Own the Decision of Life or Death. Don’t let family members, children, parents, friends, be forced to make a decision that concludes your life. Who would make healthcare decisions for you when you can’t make them? What kind of medical treatment would you want, or don’t want if faced with a terminal illness? It’s not fair to place this burden on others, especially without notice. Go to www.agingwithdignity.org and complete the Five Wishes exercise.  Five Wishes is changing the way America talks about and plans for care at the end of life.  More than 18 million copies of Five Wishes are in circulation across the nation, distributed by more than 35,000 organizations.  Five Wishes meets the legal requirements in 42 states and is useful in all 50.

Five Wishes has become America’s most popular living will because it is written in everyday language and helps start and structure important conversations about care in times of serious illness. I was required to make the life or death decision for close family. It’s not a good feeling-It will change forever who you see in the mirror.

I ran. I bolted. The pay phone was working (a sign I made the right choice at least to me). I called 911.

It took mom 6 months to recover. I stayed out of school nursing her back to health. And then one day she noticed. Puzzled.

“What happened to the mirror?”

“Don’t you remember? You broke it the night you fought with what’s-his-name?”

She didn’t remember. I didn’t share the truth. I never did.

The hall mirror and its reflections were best left buried.

I wonder if it’s still in the ground?

I’ll never share the location.

That’s a decision I can live with.

Happily.