To Be The Best Feel The Worst: 6 Ways To Ride The Red Stain To Happiness.

Featured

I realized early on how perfect my parents desperately wanted me to be.

perfect boys

I’ll go ahead and say the entire planet from our modest Brooklyn apartment appeared more perfect than anything going on in my universe.

However, that didn’t matter. I was the “punching bag” for everything that went wrong. I took it upon myself to be the designated martyr for a bad marriage.

Isn’t that what perfect boys do?

I  fought for perfection inside my own head for years. I tried to control outcomes and then my actions which is ass backwards. Stupid. I was controlling the end of the road but not the construction and direction of the path (thank you for the awakening, Kamal Ravikant).

Flashback 1973. Nana’s Sunday dinner: Outnumbered by 30 hairy fingers grasping for semolina Italian bread, feeling overwhelmed before the big guns, the heaping platters of her finest creations were carried out from the kitchen – I was instructed (threatened) to never allow tomato sauce to meet my crisp button-down white shirt.

Huge challenge.

Ten minutes into the meal uncle Tommy screamed at dad, dad stood up, gave the finger and uncle Tommy would begin hurling Nana’s cannonball meatballs soaked in sauce like we were in the middle of an indoor snowmeat fight.

There I was.

In the red line of fire.

red stain

Dead husky boy. Sitting target. Praying. Watching the skies. Catching mom’s eyes staring at me with that menacing “remember what I told you about sauce on your shirt” look.

Awaiting the inevitable saucy fate to treat my shiny buttons a landing strip.

And I was.

Praying, praying, praying…

For a meatball to fall neatly on my plate.

Praying hard because the odds were not in my favor.

When the inevitable happened.

Red liquid was splattered across the front. Hot in my eyes. All I could think of was that scene in The Godfather when Sonny Corleone gets it at a toll booth. My dad dragged me to see the iconic flick at the Marlboro theater in Brooklyn.

I was shell shocked then.

And I was almost every Sunday.

Sonny Corleone.

Set up.

At the toll booth (dining room table).

sonny corleone

I believe if Sonny Corleone was smart, his guts and perseverance would have made him as popular as Charlie Gasparino, but what do I know?

“What did I say about getting sauce ON THAT SHIRT?”

Not easy to stay tight white when it’s raining marinara.

Yep, my fault. Again.

Always my fault.

You win.

I have no excuse.

Again, a pudgy Sonny Corleone hanging limp like a soaked rag doll from the driver’s side.

I had no chance.

And I lived my life as such.

For a long time.

Always avoiding the splatter that comes with trying new things.

Not allowed to mess up.

Or be in the vicinity of a mess up.

Afraid to fail.

Always stupid until proven different.

I had no chance.

And it almost killed me.

Because life lived with zest is the pulsating exhilaration of a red stain.

If it wasn’t for the fear of god being placed in me about the sauce perhaps I would have ripped that stained white shirt off and sucked on the dripping Sicilian culinary art Nana Rose created with the reckless abandon of a 9 year old.

I would have loved it. Instead I was forced to act like a 40 year-old in a 9 year-old’s body.

Maybe I would have lived for the stain, not for the avoidance of it.

My brain was dying after decades of reliving those dinners.

And.

The rules. So many rules.

  1. Don’t sit on the couch, you’ll mess the pillows (everything was coated in plastic so what was the big deal).
  2. Never go out without a belt, your pants will fall down (no they won’t).
  3. You must wear socks AT ALL TIMES (to this day I’m hairless where the crew socks meet skin).
  4. All your shirts MUST BE WHITE AND THEY CAN’T GET DIRTY especially during Sunday dinner when your crazy relatives are THROWING FOOD AT EACH OTHER ABOVE YOUR HEAD.
  5. Don’t leave the Barbie doll alone and naked inside the GI Joe Headquarters.

So many rules my head would swim.

They owned me. I was a rules bitch. Rules created by others.

Not me.

I carried them through adulthood; it limited my life to a tiny square mental box.

When it came to taking risks.

Because it was always about the stains.

Stains were bad.

And the parents were clear: You cannot have stains on your white life.

And a stainless life is lifeless.

white shirt

I began to read more.

I started talking to thought leaders like James Altucher.

People in my field told me I was pretty good at what I did.

I started asking questions from those who knew more than me (I still do).

I freely shared my knowledge (regardless of what dad thought or my last employer believed – I’m not cattle, I have a brain).

My teachers have been there. No rules, broke rules. Created new rules.

I realized the rules enforced upon me in corporate America (the worst), married America, financial industry America needed REVISION.

I was out of my own skin with revelation. My mind was gone.

Three years lost in discovery.

I blanked out and was enlightened at the same time.

“Did you know you have a garlic press?” asked my friend Amy.

“I do?”

“Did you know you have spoons?”

“I do?”

“Do you see you have about a thousand ties?”

“I do?”

There was wear and tear to break the chains of the rules.

Real bloodshed. An organ and half. Gone.

A lawsuit.

Libel.

Slander.

My rewards for embracing the stain. Questioning the cooks in the kitchen who were adding poison to the food (that’s poetic license people, nobody got poisoned. Well, perhaps their money did) is not good for one’s health if you continue to swallow it.

To bust apart the rules society established for me (along with Catholic school nuns and deceased parents) I needed to feel and go through the worst.

To live.

Break through.

I learned to love the worst. I felt alive.

I was able to taste food again (I thought my taste buds were gone everything felt dead like cold mashed potatoes).

I began to explore new things.

I spoke up.

I began to write and share my mistakes.

I became aware and appreciative of the present moment.

I slayed my ego (needed a big knife).

I discovered I owned a garlic press and about 60 shirts with sales tags still attached to the sleeves.

garlic press

To be the best.

To create your rules.

You’ll need to go through some shit.

Wrestle with ghosts of the past until they let you go.

Because people are going to mock your rules.

You will knock them, too.

Because it’s not normal.

Or is it?

And who defines normal?

Society?

To do what society says you must?

That’s normal?

Fuck them.

Buy a house.

Go to college.

Don’t splash tomato sauce on your white shirt.

eats spaghetti

Whatever.

On occasion the paved road is a horrible way to travel. Once in awhile you’ll need to hit a pothole, go over an embankment.

To awaken.

Random Thoughts:

1). Be Clean. But understand it’s ok to get dirty when you need to. I’ve enjoyed tussling with a corporate bully, getting dragged through the worst muck of human behavior and beating myself with fear and anger.

I now enjoy the smell. There’s something gritty in the process of choosing and finding yourself. The bruises take on greater significance. I will spend the rest of my life helping others understand what this former employer truly is behind its “wholesome” facade.

“You learn to warrior up,” I imagine my friend Andrea saying that. I’m not afraid of the stains anymore. I greet them, earnestly.

2). Forget White. Be proud of your stains. You can’t avoid them. If you seek to reach a new level of thought, or feeling, or emotion the white shirt cannot remain white. White is colorless. Sure – You’ll fall, get beat, lose a piece of yourself. Marks will fade, scars will heal but they will always be a part of who you were before you were better. Good reminders. Rip open a scab on occasion. Feel the pain.Stain your life a bit. It’s fine.

3). Enjoy Meatballs.  I’m not ashamed. I got smacked for eating errant meatballs that made it to Nana’s linoleum floor. Never let anything get in the way of pursuing your meatballs no matter how messy it seems or how bad you look to others. Keep your eye (mouth) on the prize. I learned who accepted me for who I was. Nana did. Who are the people in your life who accept you for who you are, faults and all? Love them. Tell them you’re not perfect. They’re not either. There’s beauty in the rough edges of the human condition.

4). Think Simple. Managing your finances comes down to rules you follow, consistently – Rules based on behavior and attitude towards saving and debt. Even if you suck at investing (investing is icing on the cake, anyway) there are several core habits you’ll want under your belt first to accumulate the capital to invest when you feel comfortable to do so. If your consistent behavior is to funnel most of your take-home pay to reduce debt or make minimum payments on credit card balances; or if you’re an impulsive consumer without a budget, you’re never going to have the cash to invest and increase wealth. No meatballs for you until you face and correct your financial pitfalls.  Improvement begins today.

As my friend Linda says “you don’t have to humor me. I’m a godless pagan with a short temper and too much credit card debt.”

Be honest with yourself. Create your own rules that will lead to financial success. Seek an objective financial partner to hold you accountable. It’s ok to employ humor to make it through. Keep it real. So you fucked up. You needed those $300 shoes. It’s ok.

5). Don’t Overthink. As a kid I anticipated the most horrible things going on during those Sunday dinners. Like when uncle Vinnie cursed dad in broken English or Italian slang and the food would fly. Our brains, out of fear, will lead us to believe the worst is going to occur. Most of the time, your brain is wrong and the worst doesn’t happen. I can recall many dinners at Nana’s where everyone was civil. Imagine! And we enjoyed cannolis for dessert.

6). Forgiveness is for suckers. I don’t seek it; I don’t provide it. I’ve learned to appreciate the weakness in the human structure and absorb the lessons. Red stains that never fade. Every lesson adds dimension to the thought process.

To forgive is to ignore the gifts, bypass the wisdom of others. Refusing to forgive sharpens the blade. I’m happier to not forgive my parents for trying to make me “perfect.” It’s helped me appreciate my imperfections and form them into diamonds. Forgiveness saps energy and taps your resources that are designed to help you learn, teach, survive.

You’ll feel better holding on.

To the stains of others.

Converting them to energy.

“There’s bound to be a ghost at the back of your closet. No matter where you live. There will always be a few things, maybe several things, that you’re gonna find really difficult to forgive.”

The Mountain Goats – Up The Wolves.

There’s gonna be a party when the wolf comes home.

Imperfection is a wolf.

You own it.

Train it to fight.

Tear. Create edges.

Persevere.

Embrace the red stains.

Taste them.

And live again.

wolf

More to come on the red stain with insights from master wolf James Altucher and The Walking Dead’s Beth Greene and Daryl Dixon. 

Spend Your Way To Happiness: Five Ways To Do It.

I read 75 books a year.

Thank god for Kindle where I can highlight and store notes.

Don’t hate me.

It’s an illness. The thirst is quenched temporarily and it drowns me too.

I’m a slave to words. They own me.

Like good food or great conversation.

Sharing sparks with others; absorbing energy from people smarter and passionate than me.

I can’t get enough of the moments.

I’m nourished and starved at the same time.

book crazy

Associate professors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Noonan who wrote the book “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending,” outline research which shows how money can do a better job of buying happiness – if you spend it right.

This book sticks with me.

Can you get a bigger bang for your happiness buck?

print your own

I think so.

How?

Random Thoughts:

1). Buy experiences. Research shows that spending on experiences edges out purchasing stuff as experiences create lifetime “feel good” moments through the connections to others. You relive memories forever; the novelty over of a new purchase is fleeting. After six months you don’t even care that the dog barfed up worms all over the buttery-leather back seats of your new (now old) ride.

We’re happy with things until we find out there are better things available. You’re happy with smart phone version 3 until version 4 comes out. Then you’re miserable. Who the hell needs this roller coaster? I’m done with this shit.

The authors’ research shows that people who pay for an experience in advance feel more satisfaction than those who get stuck with the bill months after the fun has ended.

2). Make it a treat. Abundance is the enemy of appreciation. Purchases that are special treats (a steak dinner, rich chocolate), memorable places for vacation, or annual traditions are most likely to create greater happiness per dollar spent.

McDonald’s has been the master of this mind melt (a shameless McPlay on words), for decades. They strategically roll out the McRib each year and fake-pork freaks go insane.

I’m guilty too.

I go apes**t over the Shamrock Shake. I’ve been in love with this green, minty, frosty mix since my first sip in 1977.

I’ve raised another generation of the Shamrock addicted, too.

Kudos, McDonald’s.

Kudos.

I’m ashamed.

Shameful Money.

shamrock shakes

It’s coming. The green I really care about – IS… COMING.

3). Buy time. Sacrificing free time just to save a little money will not make you happy. In fact you’ll be miserable. Driving an extra 20 minutes to save 5 cents on gas or purchasing a larger home in the suburbs farther from work appears to be a smart use of your money, but time is more precious.

Those who have more free time exercise more, do volunteer work and participate in other fulfilling activities linked to happiness. I bet they have better sex, too.

Hate them.

ben franklin

In between chasing naked French chicks 30 years younger than he, Ben Franklin was truly a genius (also because he chased and caught naked French chicks 30 years his junior).

Money is important, but time is indeed, more valuable.

4). Never buy flowers for anyone. Get yourself something nice. Flowers die. No pleasant experience here. Actually, there’s a law of diminishing returns with women the more flowers you send them. Save the money for an experience that will nourish your soul. Send a flower meme instead. It’s clever. It’ll cause a laugh.

Chicks like funny.

“Oh flowers. Again.”

“Thanksssss.”

Dead.

flowers

See – this shit is wittier. And cheaper. Happy money (in your wallet).

5). Pay it forward. Or back. The other day I gave a homeless guy a dollar. He told me my life was worth living. He altered my mood. For a buck. Best dollar I ever spent. If you owe a person money, make an effort to pay it back – salvage what’s left of a relationship.

Money is fleeting; good friends are worth more than a thousand fortunes.

slept with lohan

My daughter told me Shamrock Shake is back!

She had one today.

I’m out of here.

Off to make a memory.

Happy Financial New Year – Five Different Paths to Money Success.

Media is flooded with pundits spouting 2014 financial resolutions. Heck, I’m on radio and television talking up the same.

talking head

Increase savings in retirement accounts, pay down credit card debt, check your insurance coverage for gaps – all good advice.

But.

We already know this stuff. It’s drilled into our heads.

Every year.

It’s fine to be reminded of the healthy financial actions we should take.

Yet, what stops us from following through?

Before you ponder money improvements for 2014, think outside the box – deviate from the worn financial paths you have attempted to walk before.

This time you’ll succeed if you take five different paths.

1). Don’t save everything for retirement. You read it right. It’s been drummed into you how a secure financial future depends on maximizing contributions to tax-deferred options like 401(k) accounts.  But how important is it, really?

A.J Leon, writer, motivator, world explorer, big thinker, in his book, “The Life and Times of A Remarkable Misfit,” outlines 16 simple steps to make money and lose respect – Step 4 is: “Never invest in yourself. Instead sock every last penny in a 401(k) that may or may not be there to greet you when you turn 65.”

Many employers have a difficult time understanding retirement plans. From the hundreds of plans examined, I notice an overwhelming trend of bland choices coupled with high fees.

For some it’s best to settle on government-approved choices called “target-date” funds. They’re the prevalent cookie-cutter choices in your company retirement plan. Basically, they’re an all-in-one mix of mutual funds packaged and wrapped in another mutual fund, thus called a “fund of funds.” The mix of stocks, bonds and cash is designed to match up to the year you decide to re­tire.

For example, it’s 2012 and you’re 40 years old. You are planning to retire at 65 (good luck). You decide on the “BlahBlah Fund 2037.” Easy.

The logic behind a target date fund is simple even though underneath, the design is com­plicated and investment philosophies can deviate dramatically depending on the mutual fund family your employer utilizes. In other words, the returns of the Blah-Blah Fund 2037 compared to the returns of your buddy’s La-La Fund 2037 will most likely differ, some­times radically.

Let me clarify: Each fund creates a “glide path,” which means the blend of investments should gradually become less aggressive the closer one gets to retirement or the target year.

Per research by Zvi Bodie, the Norman and Adele Barron Professor of Management and Jonathan Truessard, Lecturer, both at Boston University in a 2007 paper “Making Investment Choices as Simple as Possible: An Analysis of Target Date Retirement Funds,” target date funds are approximately following the well-known rule of “100 minus your age,” for the stock portion of the mix. And this smelly piece of financial dogma needs to be abolished. Now.

Target-date funds require refinement. For those who invested their tax-deferred dollars in 2008 target-date options, hoping to begin withdrawing the money in 2008, were in for a rude awakening when their accounts suffered by over 21%.

Consult an objective financial advisor; select a balanced fund. If your choices are limited to the target-date variety, cut the “maturity” date in half.  Your estimated retirement date is 2020. That’s six years away.  Go for fund 2017. Be prepared for a 2008 surprise.

Contribute up to the employer match. Don’t leave free money on the table regardless of choices, either.

According to Federal Reserve data, the average U.S. household maintains an outstanding credit card balance of over $7,000. Based on numbers provided by www.bankrate.com, the average annual percentage rate or APR for variable-rate credit cards stands at 15.37%; fixed-rate cards stand at 13.02%.

Maybe, just maybe, your 401(k) account returns exceeded 13-15% in 2013 so it was worth carrying a credit card balance. Long term, it’s a bad financial choice. Instead of maxing out saving for retirement right now direct financial resources to pay credit card debt off in full.

2). Consider your human capital. Quantify your worth. You are your greatest investment. I know it’s tough to think this way, to choose yourself, but it’s true.  Return on self-investment is wealth yet to be achieved.

How will you increase your value in a challenging marketplace? Perhaps it’s a new skill necessary to move ahead and above a nascent U.S. economic recovery.

If a continuing education opportunity exists or improvement options are available to increase your income, do it. You’re probably never going to retire anyway and when you do decide, it’ll be much later than age 65 so maximize the ROY (return on you) today.

Check out a Human Capital Calculator here.

3). Get your head straight.  My friend Shanna and I discussed this topic, recently.  If you are jealous of those who have prospered financially and you communicate negative sentiment to others, you’re digging a toxic mindset hole that will be tough to escape.

Don’t talk yourself out of empowering money habits. It’s the lazy way out. Jealousy is an energy sucker, a cash drainer. Change your mind set in 2014. Your brain will believe what you repeat to yourself, to others.  Ask more questions of those you “envy:” How did you meet your goals? What are the daily habits you follow to gain greater financial independence? What did you learn from your mistakes? Learn from others, don’t push them away.

jealousy

Teacher, mentor, investor, best-selling author James Altucher advises:

“You have a house. You need to keep the house clean so the right guests can arrive and feel comfortable. If you clutter it with anger or envy or scarcity or fear then abundance won’t feel comfortable moving in. I say this not from a position of comfort but because when i was dead and buried, i had to clean the clutter to make my life work. And it was hard because when the house is cluttered, your mind gets depressed and lazy.”

4). Stocks are not an end-all investment. Don’t be pushed into believing stocks are the panacea the financial industry tells you they are when it comes to fighting inflation. According to Jim Otar, creator of the Retirement Optimizer and author of several books on retirement planning expanded on this topic for a recent interview:

“Many advisors are under the assumption that stocks always beat inflation. This is not true. Equities beat inflation only during the long-term bullish trends, which occupied 43% of the last century. During the remaining 57% of the time, equities did not beat inflation.”

Rental properties, oil & gas interests, angel investing (can be RISKY), inflation-linked securities, deferred-income annuities can also battle inflation and diversify a stock portfolio.

5). Stop the competition.  I hear it often: My friends are the same age and they have: More cars, more savings, more stuff.

Stop.

First, friends embellish.

It’s called the endowment effect.

Second, your best financial life begins today.

Don’t look back.

It’s never too late.

Third, forget the stuff.

Travel lighter.

Down five alternate paths.

And discover long-lasting financial success.

financial success

Emerged in Indigo – 5 Ways to Ride The Blue Spray to Better Mental Health.

“Yo, listen up, here’s a story. About a little guy that lives in the blue world. And all day and all night and everything he sees is just blue like him. Inside and outside. Blue his house with a blue rear window. And a blue corvette. And everything is blue for him. And hisself. And everybody around.”

Eiffel 65.

I woke up super early then. A teenage responsibility. To deliver New York’s “picture newspaper.” The Daily News. Sleeping residents would stir in a couple of hours expecting their papers. Along cement apartment grids. Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn.

It was one of the largest routes in the borough and I traveled it all on three-speed bicycle. I pulled a contraption rigged to handle 100 daily morning editions and the heaviest of Sunday’s news.

Before the sun was aware of its duty to Earth. Before the blue sky broke to orange. A first birth of light.

When the world was quiet. Stay quiet longer. A calm so loud it caused a ringing in the ears.

Not like this morning at 4.

News stations begin broadcasts at ungodly hours now. Roads are semi-clogged at 4 with volumes we once experienced two hours later.

I dislike how the world moves frenetic. So early. Stress. In the dark. Before the black dies to blue then blue surrenders to bursts of orange.

blue orange day

The world was simpler. Black to blue at a slower pace. Long ago you could enjoy the present. Appreciate atmospheric neon. Now – well, it’s different. 

Does it need to be?

world blue

Four in the morning was mostly test pattern territory in the 70s, accompanied by an awful buzz generated to scare the shit out of viewers and blow out mono-sound RCA television speakers.

What the hell was the significance of a test pattern anyway?

test pattern And what was with the Indian?

Seriously. Some young television producer seeking fame got lucky with a Spirograph and fooled a generation into thinking test patterns were something important. The noise that went along with them only added to the mystery. I always felt these test patterns were serious.

Like I needed to do something.

No sleep.

Seek shelter. That was it.

Evil was transmitted through black and white.

Through test patterns.

spirograph

Throughout decades, no matter who we are, where we’re from, colors have stained us. Monochrome, Technicolor. Some colors horrify. Others soothe. Many inspire. A few suffocate our spirit or maybe worse. Colors saturate memories, thoughts; alter our sense of smell, taste. Sex, lust, love, hate, anger, life, death, empathy, apathy – all just splashes of color.

Colors haunt us. Colors explode in our souls. Ignite brains, shut them down.

And once a color is attached to a thought, a moment, it’s impossible to change it. Although I’ve learned the shade can indeed, change.

The color that sticks, stays however. That’s the rule.

When I a kid. Really young, when my senses were newer and more alive, as early as five years old, the vibrancy of spectrums overwhelmed me.

In the spring, the smell of new grass glowed lime green – in summer, the aromas were windblown ribbons of yellow. Colors shaped the hours. Every day had its own color and every moment was a shade of that color.

Unfortunately, I had many gray days, too. And they puzzled me. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized they were my depression days. Depression runs deep black in my family. Both sides.

Back to blue:

blue dude A blue one for the ladies. 

When I left the corporate cocoon (broke away, forced out, whatever) after 23 years, I lost my colors. My sense of security, sense of self, all I was. Gone. At least I thought. And after a colorless adventure physically, financially, mentally, I am beginning to not only see, but feel colors again.

As I lost the ability to live in the present, worried incessantly about my future, the blue evaporated from my spirit. I was able to recall, even as far back as five years ago, how I would stare at a blue sky and wonder what the color was. My blue was definitely closer to Prussian. Dark, heavy. I thought that was the way it was supposed to be.

Life was supposed to be well, colorless. I chalked it up to low T, a demanding, lifeless boss, a publicly-traded financial services company with draconian demands. So much out of my control. All of it designed to drain my blue. I see lots of blue-drained people now. They try to paint themselves true blue with new televisions, more toys, car payments. 

Long ago, I would close my eyes, before the paper route journey began for the day. When the air felt clean, before daybreak. I could freely bask in the present, breathe deep. I remembered that.

I was sad my blue disappeared.

Blue was my color of hope back then. A spray of Azure, I think.

And now it’s coming full circle.

Black is fading to blue. I see it now.

How can you ride the blue spray to sanity? To better mental health.

Random Thoughts:

1). Try. Hard. Try. Hard. Not. To. Lose. Your. Force. In the first place.  At the first sign of color loss, even a slight fade, step back and examine the origin. It’s a warning: The color of joy, hope, is fading from your soul, reducing your life force. Recognize and say no to people, ideas, fears that cause your positive colors to bleed light and your dark colors to deepen.

It’s not easy.

This year proved to me it’s tougher that I would have ever believed.

As I look to the past, now in the present, I observe the shifting wave of blue spray. It’s right there. Ready to wash over me. Hope is returning. The shade is different however; I’ll need to examine why as I move forward down the blue road.  Once I recall hope as Azure; today it feels more Brandeis.

2).  Surround Yourself with Spirits Who Share or Enhance your Color. Now that the spray is in my grasp, how do I contain it, bold it up? Move the spectrum to blue, or dark blue? I’m learning to surround myself with blue spirits. I’ve gotten so good I can see a blue glow around the right teachers. The blue spirits come in all forms – human, animal. Young, old. They’re awash in the spray.

I can pick up on the color of a prospective teacher in a few seconds. The “fade shaders” as I call them, or the color absorbers are immediately discarded. They are removed from my mental space. Their sprays are lethal and tough to lighten once they hit you. 

3). I Feel the Blue in Those Who Eliminate Big Debts. Recently, I met with a son of a client who just paid off $30,000 in credit card bills through a strategy we worked on together. When he told me he was released from the massive debt, I could feel his blue spray return. And it felt good. It enhanced my blue. The progress which allowed him to reach a financial life benchmark changed his world for the better. He was more hopeful, powerful. A bluer world for me too.

4). Blue Signifies Cool. Cool can cleanse, preserve, enlighten, awaken. It’s that first exhale of fall when the air is cool and your breath is warm. Deep breathing allows blue spray to wash over you.

5). Batman’s Cape was Blue.  As a kid I would run around the house with a blue towel safety-pinned around my neck. Blue was the color of hope and strength. It represented helping those who needed it the most.

Naturally, I ran into shit like a dumbass and once knocked our 12 inch black & white television off a poorly constructed aluminum stand. Helping those without asking for anything in return will deepen your blue spray, embolden consistency.

Blue is indeed honorable.

Good friends are Cobalt.

Your teachers, your mentors are Sapphire.

Your spirit once black, is ready to burst Electric Indigo.

In a colorless world.

Allow your blue to emerge.

And anticipate the orange.

Of your ever-emerging life force.

batman cape

A Lil’ Plot of Planning – 5 Lessons For A Successful (Less Painful) Financial Road Map.

I wonder why financial planners don’t focus the majority of time on planning.

I’ve read the stats: Less than 40% of financial planners actually undertake the task of planning with clients.

Why?

Because it’s BORING.

There. I said it.

boring-marketing-content

Even those who seek financial planning and have a passion to document every facet of their lives relent to the mundane nature of the process. They start out excited and ostensibly find financial planning to be as riveting as multiple appointments with the dentist. A couple of clients equated the experience with sitting in the chair for a cleaning (at least it’s not root canal).

Ouch.

Boy, I felt terrific.

That was four years ago. I realized – Rich, you’re approaching this ALL WRONG. 

I needed to analyze: Step outside myself, my career choice. Ask tough, objective questions.

However, before making financial planning a worthwhile emotional experience I needed to face facts.

I asked a large sample what their first impression of financial planning was (is). Here’s the top three thoughts from those I interviewed:

First, financial planning feels overwhelming. Just the sound of it turns people off. It has financial in it. There’s planning in it. Right out of the gate I’m screwed.

Second, you’re just trying to sell me something. Personally, I know this is a valid concern. For many large financial services firms it’s is a “plan and switch.” My former employer was guilty of this and so are many others. It’s one of the main reasons I went independent.

An acquaintance of mine (not a certified financial planner) mentioned at his firm they create and then immediately shred plans for people they don’t talk to just to satisfy middle management’s need to show their office “produces financial plans.” It’s all about the check marks.

Third, the results made me feel more bad than good. So, if you save $3,000 a month for the next 20 years you may have a successful 25 years in retirement. Great. Frankly, it’s best to hope for an early death.

I remember reading a twitter post from a nationally recognized debt management expert regarding how “easy” it was for a middle class household to save $1,000 a month.

Really? On which planet? No wonder planners don’t want to plan and people dislike it!

crazy guy

 What’s with this 1,000 page planning questionnaire???

This is the reality of the planning experience for many. I dare you to deny it.

When I moved to Texas 14 years ago, I soon realized how important it was for Texans to “own land.” A place to call their own. Can’t explain. It’s beyond the American Dream of owning a house. Texans respect their plot of land. Cherish it. Regardless of size. Their plot is their own. It doesn’t need to be expansive. Just theirs.

Got me thinking again as Texans always teach me lessons. How can I use this mindset to help others create a less painful financial road map and perhaps enjoy the process? OK, tolerate the process.

How can you be more successful and empowered by financial planning? It does help to know where you are and the probabilities of where you could wind up. No, really!!!

1). Examine your own foundation first. Before you even think about investigating the services of a certified financial planner (and I would stick to a certified financial planner professional), face the facts about the basic elements of the piers and beams or slabs that support your financial structure.

If you’re a poor saver, rack up debt, borrow money and don’t pay it back, frankly I can’t help you much. Sure, I can give you some constructive principles, ideas to improve, but unless you are willing to make the efforts to get your foundation in order, there’s nothing I can do.

Don’t waste your time with a financial planner like me. Frankly, the entire experience will make us both feel bad. Oh, and no: I don’t know what the next Apple stock is going to be to make you 1,000% on your money. Taking more risk on investments is not a smart way to fix a foundation.

2). How solid is your structure? I observe how Texans leave weathered, dilapidated barns on their property. Not sure why. The weather conditions are unpredictable here. I guess it’s a losing battle. Let nature take its course.

It takes much time and attention to make sure structures remain strong in the face of oppressive heat and brutal, abrupt changes to weather conditions. For you, making sure to have plenty of cash to weather financial emergencies or withdrawals, is crucial.

With the poor current state of employment, I suggest 6-9 months of living expenses in a savings or money market account.

Texas barn

Even retirees can benefit from a cash reserve when taking distributions. That’s what I advise. I’m glad empirical analysis proves my method, correct.

Read on:

The Benefits of a Cash Reserve Strategy in Retirement Distribution Planning.

From the study:

The empirical findings of this study are clear. In a taxable environment with transaction costs and lower investment returns than seen historically, liquidity improves plan survival rates relative to a strategy with no cash reserve. The reduction in taxes, transaction costs, and the detrimental impact of volatility on wealth more than offset the opportunity cost of lower returns due to allocating more wealth at retirement to cash.

3). Inspect your financial planner. Inspections, appraisals are important elements of purchasing, selling real estate in Texas. Thoroughly inspect your planner before the planning process.

For example – Ask the right questions. Like – How do you get paid for this plan? If the plan is free - Run. You want a person who charges a fee per plan or hour. A “free” plan is far from free and most likely, will not be a priority for the planner unless you make a life insurance purchase or go into a managed money product. Investment planning is as important, not MORE important than the other elements of your financial life.

Inspect to make sure your certified financial planner is in good standing – http://www.cfp.net.

4). Get organized first. Build a fence around the paper. Sounds simple enough, yes? How organized are your financial documents? – Tax returns, brokerage statements, deeds, estate plans. And what about all those passwords for financial websites? Are they documented and stored in a place for heirs to access? Organization is control.

It’s a good exercise to touch, read, file your paperwork. A great first step to easier planning. Perhaps your financial planner can help? I provide hefty, heavy-duty binders with tabs so clients may get organized before planning can begin.

5). Think small. In Luling,Texas there’s a place called Tiny Texas Houses. Brad Kittel a master builder, creator of livable art from salvageable materials, has made small sexy and functional.

brad_kittel-4-2011-300x168 Hi Brad!

Why must you complete a financial plan the size of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time at 4,211 pages for it to be taken seriously?

Go modular. Small. One personal financial benchmark at a time. Then move on to the next financial concern/goal. A good financial planner will help you savor the process one element at a time and create a checklist to keep you moving forward.

Planning isn’t entertaining.

It can be rewarding.

As planners we need to face the fact: We’re not popular but we are necessary.

How can we find ways to make it all more enjoyable?

I’m too old to go into dentistry.

How about you?

dentist This looks fun!

The Star Spangled Hammer – Three Lessons for the Fourth of July.

As I’m learning to live more in the present, I can’t help but be reminded of the past. I believe it’s my mind’s way of refusing to let go. The more aware I am of where I am today, the greater my mind grasps frantically, for the rope of the past.

Recently, I began to visualize a hammer smashing those memories of the past, to bits. It’s a nice hammer too. Like Thor’s. Anytime a debilitating thought arises I whip out the mental pulverizing device and go ape shit on it. So far, nobody injured and it’s working fine.

Thor

So what if for today, just one day, we all carried a hammer? No wait: A star-spangled hammer.

No, not get star-spangled HAMMERED (although that doesn’t sound half bad).

Sunny

Random Thoughts:

1). Star-Spangled Hammer #1 – Smash those thoughts that prevent you from discovering success. We’re all afraid to try something new; it’s not easy to fight the fear. Today is a good day to step outside your comfort zone like those who fought/fight for the country.  Our minds, the fears of the unknown, prevent us from rising to the next level. Declare your independence from negative self-talk. It’s freedom day. 

2). Star-Spangled Hammer #2 – Don’t think you’re stuck in a dead-end job anymore. As the employment situation improves, you have a greater chance of securing a more lucrative position. Don’t settle with unhappiness in cubicle-ville. Decide you will learn a new skill that will make you increasingly marketable. Take one step to improve. Begin a part-time business doing what you love.  Who knows where it will lead?

3). Star-Spangled Hammer #3 -  Take a hammer to debt. Work to aggressively pay down credit card debt even if it means postponing saving for retirement. Excessive high-interest debt is a chain around your neck. Sit with a professional who can help you create action steps to consolidate and pay off/down the  burden that weighs you down.

Throughout history, Americans have proven themselves to be resilient people.

Never forget.

It’s a birthright. 

Your heritage.

To embrace.

captain america two

Oh, or use a shield.

A shield is good too.

Gatsby’s Greatest Mistake – Avoid Death Through Eternal Hope.

I never met a man with such hope. I doubt I ever will again.” Nick Carraway.

Mr. Jay Gatsby clearly didn’t thrive on this plane. He was bigger than life, above earth, to many who knew him. Knew of  him. Men, women, actors, senators, commissioners, vagabonds, freaks, all ages, all shapes, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the pimple-faced kid who delivered the freshest produce every mid and end of week who stuck around a bit too long to catch a glimpse of mystery.

Clearly, everyone was aware of Gatsby, or at the least, the image of the man formed over years of discipline, sacrifice, study, focus. Amazing, blinding focus. The thousands who entered the masterful iron gates of his 40,000 square-foot mansion on weekends, who took advantage of the endless flow of hospitality, each one, had a story.  To Nick, Gatsby seemed like a soul ready to dance on the edge of tragedy.  Stripped of protective barrier, Gatsby was a mere boy playing adult games. There was a story which circulated, cut deep through the heat of party goers and the lights. So much light. It blinded Nick.

“I heard he even killed a man.”

Gatsby never belonged in the present.  His closest friend, if Gatsby held a real friendship, observed the inner distraction, perhaps a bordering on obsession.

Nick was convinced: Something outside this world was eating Gatsby alive.  At least that’s what he believed.

Looking down, Nick observed Gatsby’s rich leather shoes. Always polished.  He laughed. It was his way of knowing Gatsby existed in the physical realm. One day Nick would imagine, he’d look down and Gatsby’s feet would be hovering about a foot off blue lawn, like a spirit ready to speed off to another planet. A Godly mission perhaps?

Nick wondered:  Where did Gatsby’s heart rest?  Standing majestic, always dressed for perfection, looking into him, Nick would observe, feel the distance, beyond the deep blue of Gatsby’s eyes. Who was Jay Gatsby anyway?

A spy? A killer? A hero? Did he even remember?

Nick asked himself repeatedly – “Who owns and chains Jay Gatsby’s soul?”

Nick noticed how Gatsby would uncomfortably shift to and from the current.  He was much like the white water which ebbed and flowed along a lush, personal beach.

Nick was fascinated. There existed a beautiful sadness, a breathless longing, a waiting in a smile that caught itself before completion.  There was true genius here. An honesty, a passion locked deep. He knew things you didn’t. You didn’t want to know.

Depending on the conversation, Nick could release the child-like innocence who was Gatsby. Gatsby before all the trappings. The hungry one. The one who felt.

gatsby

Behind wispy delicate beauty purchased from wealth, lived a man awaiting release. Or redemption. A better life. Completion. Forgiveness, perhaps. Nick would write feverishly in his journal – “Heartbroken. Distracted. Innocent.  Mysterious spirit. Dangerous.”

“Yet hopeful. Always amazingly hopeful.”

Immersed in overly decadent trappings of the richest mahogany and purple-blue carpet which felt like crushed velvet under foot, Gatsby was a polished, preserved shell draped in the finest light linens and deep silk vests designed solely to fit his swimmer’s body, snug. From the calloused fingers of artist-immigrant tailors at Herbinger’s of New York City.

Stuck rich between youth and maturity, estrangement and engagement.  Waiting for a bridge to be built between past and future – One vital piece remained untethered for the polished yet raw of Jay Gatsby.

“Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.”

Every reserved step, each over-the-top party, the plethora of salt breeze which swirled over Long Island Sound direct through his open balcony door, sought to embrace him. It felt best not to touch. The salt-air felt thick, solid – yet it played teasingly gentle with billowed drapes. Silk flown in directly from Singapore, woven by hand, wrapped Gatsby in the future of a dream not yet realized. He raised a manicured finger. Lowered his head. Sandy hair once coiffed, now tussled by wind. Breathing in and out.

Pointed forward. Eyes closed. The pain of her. Her absence radiated from deep his chest.

Traveled on emerald bright.

A salvation: His salvation.

Where the woman, a human light, who held his soul captive like a seirene, for half a decade now.

Danced gleefully behind the green light. Where she lived.

Little did Daisy know when she spun on the dock like a little girl, with the green light as beacon, Gatsby felt her. He felt nothing deep except her presence.

The lights from his mansion across the water,most of the time launched in Technicolor, was designed to capture an elusive star. The music, the crowds, the fireworks. All for her attention. A tactic designed to push a love, Daisy, back to where they started. It was five years. To Gatsby, it was yesterday. Everything stopped unless Daisy was part of the equation.

Thought across the water, he would focus on the only shine that mattered to him. The green. The calm. The pure of color messaged him. It was code to his soul not yet released. His heart to join past and present rode on a wave of robust hope.

He created an elaborate stage – a world of players he observed but never touched.  Except for Nick. There was a difference about him. He reminded Gatsby of a brother he left a life ago.

And for all Gatsby appeared to his those he played to, his foundation, his emotional as well as financial footing was shaky. Perhaps we love this timeless story because perfection is born from imperfection.

However, you can never run from who you truly are. As well as you dress, as elegant as you speak, there’s something tragic about all of us. Gatsby couldn’t touch the imperfect. It was a realization how truly flawed he was.

Daisy Buchanan was smart enough to accept her station. Her willingness to party, her vacuous nature, was truly who she was. Gatsby tried to acquire her. He created an inner image of her. An image he could control. And wanted so badly to believe. Who he loved wasn’t Daisy. It was his wish to save her, perhaps possess her. A projection. A feeling lost he needed returned.

“I KNOW. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything…Sophisticated – God, I’m sophisticated.”

Writer’s note: Daisy was a pompous twit. But she knew it. Admit when you’re a pompous twit, people will hold a greater respect for you. 

Everything Gatsby built, everything Gatsby sought, everything he had become, born of incredible focus. (Was. For. One. Person. And. It. Wasn’t. Him.)

Ostensibly it killed him. Death after going so deep, was the only answer. It was the only conclusion F. Scott could have come to. Gatsby was so mired in his dream, so far gone, only death could release.

So what can we learn from this classic?

Random Thoughts:

1). Gatsby’s parties and trappings were a horrible return on investment. If the elaborate wealth was bankrolled by Prohibition then what would happen when it all ended? And Prohibition did indeed, end. Gatsby surely spent more than he took in.Only a matter of time before Daisy being as spoiled as she was, would depart. As soon as the cash ran dry. I have no doubt Gatsby as a fighter,  would have found another way to build a fortune. To recover. Unfortunately, his true focus for it would have long exited. And possession should never be every reason to acquire wealth, especially when it comes to the acquisition of a heart, love. A feeling. Gatsby loved how he felt around Daisy. He was willing to pay anything for that feeling. He was paying with his life and she really wasn’t concerned. If Gatsby was able to spend more time in the present, he probably would have figured this Prohibition thing was going to conclude. He held enough contacts to uncover this information and ostensibly work to protect his wealth.

2). Gatsby suffered from abhorrent emotional and cognitive biases. First, he lived in the past. Only the past. I’m sure hindsight bias troubled him. I’m sure he obsessed over past investment mistakes because in hindsight, he knew they were going to fail or do well. He needed to control so much of his projection, his journey, his capture of a love that died a long time ago, he could have never admitted he was wrong. As Nick wisely told Gatsby: “You can’t bring back the past.” Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can, old sport!”

“He wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was.”

Writer’s note: His love for Daisy was the love he lost for himself.”

Gatsby was inflicted by regret aversion. He held on to lots of “losers,” much longer than he should have. All his party goers, the people he provided a “respectable front” for business dealings, DAISY (biggest loser as it cost him his life). Don’t hold on to losing investments thinking the’ll recover. Forget holding on to feelings, or hope that someone you loved will return. A bullet in the chest and a float in the pool are the results. 

“They are a rotten crowd,” I shouted across the lawn. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”
I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time.”

3). Find and then appreciate your Nick Carraways. The true alliances, the objective financial partners who will provide truth even when it hurts, those who make up your inner circle. The ones who listen, care, the ones who truly feel your pain. So much it changes them. And you. Those who embrace who you are now. Learn to love the Nick inside you, too. For some odd reason, Nick was Gatsby’s true salvation; he just couldn’t make the pieces fit. Your human outliers, the ones who think outside the box, but are pure of heart are worth more than any Gatsby-like fortune. Write down who those people are. Call them. Write. Tell them now what they mean to you. Cherish. Thank them for sharing the brutal, beautiful truth. These people provide clarity.

“Everyone suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.”

4). Understand Gatsby was dead before he hit the water. The bullet was merely  release. A method to move on. Forced by the hand of another. We, on occasion, are moved forward by the force of another. Harsh realization from a past love, an illness that sets you back, a business failure (which is not a defeat), depression, an inner disappointment. Let’s face it. Daisy wasn’t going to return to Gatsby and for him, it meant all he built was false, mere illusion. It was time for him to deal with the demons. And they were powerful. He made them so. Death was a good way for Gatsby.Majestic. Full of story. Bigger than life. It’s not yours. Remember the bullet that caused you to move forward, bleed, then drown. Time to emerge. Remember what you’re made of. Some dreams are not fucking healthy. They hold you captive. Daisy wasn’t going to call. She was long gone. Years back. She knew how to work the Great Gatsby.

Gatsby Daisy

“He must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about…like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.”

5). Know when your light goes from green to red. To much hope will blind. The blinking beacon, your overwhelming focus, will trick you. The light you seek should always be green. The light inside you should be red. Somewhere between is where reason should  flicker. You’ll then know when to change the path to the green light. Or perhaps you’re focused on the wrong dock. The wrong light. There’s more than one green light out there. Find them all. Know when to change the bulbs, change the focus, move to other docks.

The phone will ring. You’ll attempt to exit the pool, complete the illusion.

And that may be the worst possible outcome.

Gatsby died with hope, from eternal hope.

Create life through hope. It’s healthy in doses.

Realize when hope is not enough.

Run faster, stretch your mind, move past your comfort zone, stretch your arms.

Know when hope creates illusion, self denial.

Because then you’re in the pool.

And going under.

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter- tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning-”

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.

A Folded Cardboard Holiday. Four Ways to Stay Alive at Christmas.

I dislike Christmas. Not in a funny, green “Grinchy,” way either.

grumpy christmas

The holiday has clearly lost some of its sparkle for me, especially now, as cherished people I believed would be around for longer than a memory, decided to bail quickly from my inner wonderland. Clean gone. Like the three wise men who get misdirected by Apple Maps to the birthplace of Cee Lo Green instead of the second coming of you-know-who.

The problem with Christmas is it stirs ancient thoughts and the mental bias of anchoring. I dare you to gaze at a tree ornament you’ve unpacked this year, every year over the last ten and not recall “the moment.”  A vivid memory of  how you felt when you received it, who gave it to you, where you bought it. The weather that day you hung it from your fake Christmas tree. The eye color, hair color, smell, of the person who bought the cheap holiday trinket for you; now the damn thing has a life of its own, it possesses a wealth of memories you would sooner forget.

And for most of the year you do. Until..

You resurrect the decoration from the plastic tomb stored in the garage. From a container marked “CHRISTMAS CRAP.” Then you “go back,” or anchor to “the moment,” again and usually it isn’t good. But you can’t throw this plastic memory bank away, so you sullenly hang it from a tree branch this year. Again. Relive the pain.

Stab me with candy cane every year, it’s ok. I can take it. This year after exhuming a memory, I lost track of time and space. It was silly when I realized I had been sitting on the dusty floor of my garage for an hour and a half. Lost in space, lost in time, lost in “the moment.”

santa slay Awww

Even cardboard can push the past into the present. The other day at a friend’s house, a collector of vintage kitsch, a flood of memories washed over me. There in the corner, looking as new as the ancient day it was originally folded out was a Christmas adornment I haven’t seen or remembered in years. Yet, when I noticed it, I went back in time immediately. I went speeding through time, a return to 1972 when I first received my very own cardboard and electric (what a lethal combo)

cardboard fireplaceFireplace!!!!!

It was a lousy Christmas that year. My mother after a binge of booze and pills came home from God-knows-where, focused on the fake Christmas tree I just finished decorating, picked it up from the middle like some form of petite, brunette elf weightlifter and flung it out the third-floor living room window.

I think there were like 6,000,000 lights secured around this thing. In fact, there were so many light sets attached that when the plastic pine cliff diver advanced from the window, one of the light strings got caught on the way down causing the tree to temporarily swing about 10 feet from the ground like some type of evil holiday pendulum.

Then two days later, on December 27, a favorite cousin visited. A savior of sorts. He brought the fireplace along with small, wrapped gifts I never expected. On December 27, I had Christmas revisited thanks to Michael. We unfolded the fireplace, secured the lightbulb behind the fake flame. It might as well had been the real thing. The warmth was the same. A cousin saved my holiday. I never forgot.

Random Thoughts:

1). Tell People you Love them. Now. Today. Even when they don’t feel the same. Even if they walk away. Even if they don’t respond.Today is the day to tell them exactly what they mean to you and you’ll be there for them because your heart and soul can’t change. It won’t change. Don’t compromise.

2). Christmas is not a day, or a holiday, it’s a mindset. The harsh glow of bad memories are ok even if they pierce you like extra-pointed ends of holly. The rotten ones are tough yet you must look behind them and work hard find the lessons that move you forward. Embrace what was and analyze how it made you the person you are today.

3). In times of despair, who will save your holiday? Be open to the signs. Be open to those you’ve been closed to before. You never know the lessons they’ll teach you, the memories they’ll create for you when you unpack the ornaments next Christmas.

4). Now is the time to tie up loose ends. With people. With money. Step back. Sever or foster ties with those who create energy, and cut away the ones who take it away. On occasion, you’ll be the one who’s cut and never truly understand why. There’s a humility, a frailty to being cut. It feels hopeless. Like a Christmas tree cast from upper floors. Then, out of nowhere – hope emerges.

At the end of the year, it’s a good idea to double-check the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts and life insurance policies. It’s also an opportune time to decide how you’re going to increase your contributions to retirement plans or work to pay off credit card debt in the new year.

My middle name is Michael. I demanded my mother have it changed after that Christmas. She obliged out of guilt. It was a way to always keep a special cousin in my heart.

After losing contact with my favorite cousin years ago, I found out last year that Michael died in 2008. Alone. From AIDS. In a motel room in upstate New York. He was dead for a week before they found him.

I wasn’t there. I never knew.

I missed my chance to tell him how much I loved him. How much he saved me that day. I sent a thought to him, as I stared at a friend’s cardboard fireplace. I asked Michael to forgive me. I thanked him for what he did for me.

Don’t miss your chance.

Today’s the day..

Your day to unfold love, gratefulness, blessings.

A day to find your fireplace. Your hearth.

Do it.

Three Lines. Three Words. Three Lessons. Three Tips. Three Reasons to Believe.

Don’t worry. He won’t hurt you. Just sit there (three sentences).

Santa

Not sure why Santa scared me so much. Clowns frightened me. Women frighten me. Threes.

Scary happens in threes. Scary movie sagas frequently occur in threes, although many times I wonder why. The Godfather movies? Three. Don’t ask me why. Don’t see Godfather III. Abomination.

On occasion you need three signals to wake you, shake you, bake you – Three hammers hit you in the head, three lightning strikes. You cry, you deny, you wake up. Maybe you wake up. Most likely, you don’t wake up. Try. I try every day.

Why?

Because your brain forms protective layers. Three from what I’ve discovered about myself. As your mind tries to protect your heart. To get through to you, to others, you need to bust through the layers.

Thinking in threes, speaking in threes, can improve your life, possibly save it.

Everything you ever need to know can be learned in threes. Everything you ever need to communicate can be accomplished in threes.

Random Thoughts:

1). “Leave me alone. Go away. I mean it.” Use this for bad thoughts, bad people, bad ideas, bad anything. Sure, you can stop at leave me alone but it’s not enough. Go further. There is a force in threes.

2). I love you. Three actions prove it: I’ve been there for you in rough times, I’ve been there for you when you disappear and return, I’m there for you now that you’re gone again. Being there through bad times isn’t enough to prove you love someone. It’s through the challenging times, confusing times, the times when you want to let go. But you don’t. And you should.

3). All you need are three rules to be successful with money. Save more, spend less, be thankful for what you have. It’s not rocket science people. The financial services industry makes it more complicated, sexy, confusing, on purpose. Now you may need a coach to help you save more, spend less, be thankful. Most of the time it’s a failure to accomplish one of the three simple rules that upsets the game plan. Recently, I met with a distressed lady who saved, had no debt (and a beautiful home), but was not thankful and wanted more. I spent hours taking her through an inventory of all the gifts she’s been bestowed, most of them based on her good habits.

Try writing out your throughts in three sentences. Let me know if it works.

In 2000, I received a call from a doctor I didn’t know. I was at work. 1pm.

“Mr. R? Your mother is here at our hospital. She’s been ill. She’s about to die.”

“I can speak with her. What do I say? I’m not sure.”

“Tell her you love her. Forgive her for the bad things. Help her to move on.”

He handed me the phone receiver.

“Richard? Are you there? I’m sorry.”

“I love you mom. I forgive you for everything. Grandpa is waiting for you.”

I heard three breaths. Then nothing. Then a dial tone.

Threes. What an impact.

On everything.