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.

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.

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? Choose.

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.

Your Personal Declaration of Independence – How to be Reborn on the 5th of July.

“The brick is on fire!” Donna screamed.

Pointing feverishly to the Armeggedon in front of me. She was long at my back. Way back from my back. Like to the doorway to the exit to the floor below.

Are you lighting the right passions? What is your focus?

And it was.But if (when) you stepped away, the bricks engulfed in flame was the least of my problems.A good part of the apartment building’s roof was engulfed. It was a super-hot Fourth of July, too. 1976.

The tenement building’s roof was my personal summer sticky playground and now my playground was in danger of melting.

At least if a Brooklyn FD unit was in my future, I was wearing pants this time around. The last time fire trucks showed up I had my bare bottom stuck to hot asphalt. This time? I was prepared! Pants locked. Secured.

It all happened so fast. This was supposed to be the best fourth ever too. Portable radio, new hibachi (tiny, best BBQ ever), and $200 worth of assorted fireworks (that was a fortune for me). A fortune for 1976. Hey, it was the bicentennial. A big deal. I wanted a big bang to celebrate (from Donna too who wore a July 4 themed tube top ready for removal).

For those of you too young to know what “Hibachi,” is.

The wind was unusual. Air was still. Then a gust. Still. A gust. Let’s say it was damn unusual. I placed the first (of what I thought would be many) of the colorful fireworks, cone shaped, on the ledge of the roof facing the street.I was going to orchestrate the most impressive pyrotechnics display these sweaty bastards ever saw. Happy 200th birthday, America!!

I lit the fuse and stepped back. Excited. Then it hit me. A formula for disaster was right before my eyes.

Wind Gust + Huge Paper Grocery Bag of Fireworks On Roof Floor + Ignited Fuse =

Brooklyn rooftops were both beautiful & dangerous.

I couldn’t have planned a  more perfect disaster. The wind knocked the cone directly into the bag. Then the real show began.Before it was over, there was a flaming pile of ash and a trail from the wind swirling remnants of fiery trash now starting fires all over the roof.Flaming fireworks were now raining down on the courtyard too.

I dreadfully imagined the emergency call to the FDNY this time:

“The roof of _____? Is it the kid who had his genitals stuck? He’s at it again?”

Hey, it wasn’t my fault!!!! I didn’t plan this!!

Or did I?

Fuck off!! I’m the victim here!!!!

Was I?

I needed to face smoldering facts. I was turning into a human I didn’t want to be. A person worse than a hoodlum. My soul was on fire.

My mother always blamed everyone else for her troubles, her fate, even though she was responsible for what lit her fuse and how she crashed and burned. Over and over again.

Turning into my mother was the worst thing I could imagine. In the flames I was still. I was hoping to burn. Donna? Long gone. On the phone with the fire department.

I was next. Ready to burn. Ready to be consumed by the hell fire of a victim’s mentality.

I imagined myself a scarred drone. A victimless victim. An ash hit my face. I left it alone. To wake me up.  I was not going to fall for the hypnotic bad flames around me. I was bigger than the fire now.If there was indeed going to be fires, I was going to make damn sure I was responsible for them. I was going to use them to fuel my path. Out of this neighborhood. No more rooftops. No more bare ass to asphalt. And I was going to make sure my fires were mostly for good things. Not for ruining property. My beloved roof. Scarred forever.

At 12 years old I declared my independence. Never looked back. Little did I know when my mother left town forever a year later with a guy she knew for a week, this move would serve me well.

On July 4 we celebrated. We took back America. The one we remember or at least, like to remember. The one of loyalty, love, faith, friendship. The old of glory. The flames of patriotism and of course, independence.

Then July 5 rolls around. And it’s over. We are slaves again. Slaves to debt, slaves to overwhelming bosses and the corporations they serve, slaves to politics, slaves to shit we don’t need. We lose ourselves in the bad flames. Next 4th of July we’ll restore our faith again. Not good enough. It’s time to light your fuse.

No. A year is too damn far away. Today, July 5. You will be reborn. Today is your personal independence day. How will you create and serve this noble purpose?

How would you begin your PDI? What will be your Personal Declaration of Independence?

Random Thoughts:

1). Burn (or blow up) Bridges. Set to flame those people who don’t ignite your passions, your creativity, your strengths, your will to live. You’ve already identified them you just haven’t had the guts to set the bridges on fire. Not literally. Put away the lighter fluid. Don’t even call these pricks. Just stop communication. Walk out. Get an attorney if you’re married. Nothing wrong with using the laws of the land to light the dynamite.

2). Be a Firestarter. Direct your fire slowly to those activities, the people, the materials that enhance your intelligence, bolster your wealth, lighten your mood and encourage you. Light the spark every day. At the end of the day, be thankful you were able to set good thoughts ablaze. Be thankful for the firestarters.

3). Who Holds the Fire Extinguisher Now? Or who is out to hose you? I’ve identified real false fire gods. They lurk in the coals of corporate America. You think they’re mentors. They are. Up until you stop chugging the Kool-Aid and speak out against an action that’s inappropriate to the customers or clients you serve.

Do that and you’re dead. Even if you speak out once. Dead. Covered in white foam. Your career fire is out. Just like that. What the hell happened?

Create a personal, small rebellion (which will turn out to be BIG) against corporate America. Corporate America is no longer your friend if you’re an employee. Although, you’re extra, extra special as a shareholder or a bondholder.

As a worker, you’re drudge at the bottom of a drudge bucket. Yes, there are exceptions but not as many as you think. Every corporate action that is taken and will be taken going forward will be to drain more life out of you and take time away from your family. All for the sake of fatter profit margins. All to appease Wall Street analysts. You work for Wall Street now. It doesn’t matter what your check says. Your corporate mentors will spoon feed you, pacify you until you speak up. It only takes one time.

After the financial crisis in 2008, behind the doors of mahogany boardrooms I’m thoroughly convinced that corporate decisions makers know they have you over a barrel. They’re willing to take advantage of the situation for as long as possible. They want the fire in your soul until there’s nothing left.

You’ll work longer hours for less pay. You’ll progressively be thrown lofty goals soaked in management hubris, which will be increasingly impossible to meet. And when you don’t meet or exceed these hurdles you’ll be written up or threatened with firing.

The future indicates you’ll need to deal with greater “innovation” from middle managers who consistently need to work off your sweat equity to enhance their miserable careers. You have now become a flesh cog in the corporate machine until the scales balance more in labor’s favor. It will happen someday. They’ll be more workers seeking to break free. For now? You’re screwed.

Don’t be a victim. What actions can you take today to further strengthen your personal declaration of independence. Knowing your enemy helps. Some dress well and talk sharp. Take what you can get. Be respectful. But never trust corporate mentors.

4). Positive Fires Rage through Humility. I’ve heard America likes overachievers. I don’t believe it. People will sincerely appreciate your help but don’t fall too in love with yourself. Remain humble and grateful in your life and in your delivery of guidance. Overachieve in your heart and be thankful when people recognize and commend your fires.

God will bless you and people will actually heed your words. Humble also means you have a fire to constantly gain knowledge. You can never know or learn enough.

I never went up to the roof again. I left everything. For all I know, the Hibachi  and the radio are still up there.

The person I was remains in the brick of an urban hearth. The person I  was died in flames on July 4, 1976.

On July 5th,  I was reborn.

How will it happen for you?

Although on occasion, I miss the dirty beauty seen from a Brooklyn roof.