10 Shots At A Life Worth Living From The Rifleman.

“Guns don’t make you strong, they make you hesitate and respect the value of human life.”

Lucas McCain

With a foundation in New York, now a life (or mid-life), in Texas, I’m sensitive to the frenzied disparate bombardment of opinions.

About everything.

On social media it’s North meets South, again.

Gun control, border walls, homegrown terrorists. Workplace violence.

Kim Kardashian.

Donald Trump.

Rhetoric, vitriol.

Electronic bullets.

People blown to bits in 140 characters or less.

Makes me realize.

People are shooting off their mouths indiscriminately.

The world needs The Rifleman more than ever.

Let’s return to September 1958, shall we?

Turn the clunky black dial flush to a rich, mahogany console. Fire up the RCA Victor, boys and girls.

TV tubes resonate a low hum. They sound like the wings of a thousand agitated bees until a black & white moving picture emerges. Out of nowhere from behind thick glass.

 

RCA 1958

No matter how clear the picture, a perpetual cinematic room for a clearer clear exists. You toil endlessly with dual rabbit-ear antenna rods.

Feverishly you orchestrate two straw-thin antennas, stare at the screen. Stop. Work again. An awkward tango with thin aluminum arms. You’re expecting magic. Only you know when it’s found.

Battling rabbit ears is lost to the annals of American household pop culture. The endless search for medieval high-def is history. Dead.

Warmth seeps in on air waves. Vacuum tubes that resemble bulbous laboratory vials glow yellow. Heat rises. Conjures a musty, heady aroma from a warm brown felt grid stapled to the back of the set.

Cozy up to a screen of the thick glass. Watch your arm hair come alive, tingle to attention from static electricity.

You feel good all over.

And then.

Mom bellows from the kitchen because of course, she knows everything.

“Don’t sit too close, you’ll ruin your eyes!”

The Rifleman, a half-hour western drama, ran for five seasons: 1958-1963. Prime time on ABC.

Chuck Connors portrayed chisel-jawed Civil War veteran Lucas McCain. A widower raising a young son Mark McCain, alone. Building a life, a ranch, in the fictional town of North Fork.

I feel the ladies fading fast.

“I don’t like westerns.”

OK, The Rifleman is officially a western. You got me. However, life lessons roll larger than thunder arteries blistering the clouds in Oklahoma skies. The  guns, bullets, dust, horses, and saloon brawls are set dressings for stories of challenge and perseverance. True grit.

Now, let’s get those ladies corralled into readin’.

A 6’6″ Lucas McCain holds a rigid stance against the searing heat of nature. Overworked boots. Heels in dry dirt. His broad shoulders glisten wet under the blistering New Mexico summer. The straight-line high blue gushes the same color as his eyes. Jaw clenched in determination, he removes his hat, the felt brim dark with sweat.

The salty sting in his eyes feels good. He’s alive. One with the land. His land.

Cotton is wet-heavy. A blast furnace against his skin.

Soaked with the fire of his toil.

He pauses to toss his shirt. Abruptly, it lands with a thick thud and soaks the parched earth underneath. A seldom breeze lands cool on his back. At 37, Lucas is fit, perhaps more so than a decade earlier.

His bare torso is lean. Working the earth, relishing the ‘sodbuster’ way of life has made him hard in body, sharper in mind. His farming a cleansing of where he came from, buried under black-pitch soil mixture of the present. Hopeful yet guarded for the future.

For him.

For Mark McCain. His boy.

Lucas reaches for a nearby bucket. Drinks deep from it. The sweet liquid from the ladle is lukewarm but invigorating. He carefully pours the precious liquid over his upper body. Drops embrace and crawl down his tired muscles.

The anterior of his right shoulder is tight but pliable. It had to do. Only a short time for a breather. There are more chores before sunset.

Lucas returns to his regimen. The thick spade handle grips small in large, callused hands. It comes alive. Ironically, his hands could kill yet it was easier to save a life. Grow it, too.

rifleman one

Whew, the ladies have returned.

Lucas McCain. A man of determination and wisdom formed by serving as Union lieutenant in the Civil War. Behind steeled eyes that witnessed the worst of the human condition, Lucas McCain became a master of placing himself in another’s veins. He knew when to strike and when, as a man of wisdom, back down.

Yea, there’s much one can learn from watching, no observing, The Rifleman.

rifleman three

Random Thoughts:

Shot #1: How much pain will it take to release the truth inside? 

The emergence of your internal compass, a definition of truth as it breaks away from the fence lines of long roads traveled. How does this happen?

An uncompromising life philosophy.

What I call “Rifleman’s Awareness” is not born of happy or pretty.

It’s not of sunshine.

The source is internalized writhing maggots. Thick layers of spilled blood that attach to every cell. A tight-wedged coagulation of unhealed festering wounds that slither from unresolved torment under relentless pressure. A billion lifetimes in the making.  The rot of past trials go back that far.

Sharp enemies of the past, the ones that carry and cut with rusted blades, never die. They continue to pierce until an injured limb goes numb and severed. At that point, you’ve won against fear and pain.

The opportunity has arrived for you to crush hideous demons into beautiful diamonds.

Nothing can hurt you. The higher plain is no longer fallowed grounds but an endless bounty.

You must learn to train these devils to do your bidding or allow their disease to stick to you. Consume who you are. Who you can be. Until you’re dead.

The Rifleman corralled and controlled internal torment. He could aim and fire the perfect dose of justice every time. His skills with a rifle were legendary. Known for miles. His words were delivered with similar velocity as bullets.

It’s safe to assume from binge watching  what moves Lucas forward is life earned (and learned) –  a bloody war, the loss of a spouse, a vigilance over his only child.

It can take years, decades (perhaps never) to develop a personal truth, an internal guide that motivates daily actions. The release of wisdom from a greater guide than self is an exhausting, ongoing process.

Beliefs that seed in the soul can break away to help you conquer the renegades in black hats. The gatekeepers. The enemies. When forced to protect everything you hold dear, those seeds will grow to mighty oaks.

Your personal rule book will be lived only after you’ve tamed the beast of fear. That mastery comes from confronting and melting the freeze that is born of it.

But first, you’re going to need to understand who makes the rules and why.

If you feel sick going into work every day, ostracized for disagreeing with your boss, shunned by co-workers, well then you sort of know already.

You’re walking the path of The Rifleman.

Recently, my friend and greatest teacher James Altucher wrote about personal rules on Facebook.

You see, he appears to be a nerd. However, he’s a self-aware rifleman (armed with pen and a waiter’s pad):

ARE YOU FOLLOWING THE RULES?

The government has rules.
Schools have rules.
Society has rules.
Parents and then family have rules.
Relationships have rules.

I tried to follow all the rules. I was a good boy.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep track. The rule book is too big.

And then I got the phone calls. Why didn’t you follow that rule?

I don’t know. It didn’t make me feel good.

Well, if the only thing that is important to you is feeling good you would just kill and steal and lie to people all the time.

Why would any of that make me feel good?

Well, what does make you feel good?

Talking to you on the phone makes me feel good.

Aside from that.

Walking outside and looking at people. Feeling the last remnants of sun on my cheek before the winter comes.

Being kind to someone when they least expect it. Surprise makes me feel good.

Knowing that every now and then I can still make my teenage children laugh.

I gave a talk a few months ago and I heard my youngest laugh. That is the best feeling I’ve ever had. She laughed right after I said something that felt like it was breaking the rules (I forget the statement: I was describing either lying or stealing or saying something about my mom).

Seeing the smile of a woman up close after a first kiss. That makes me feel good.

Being with friends who love me and I love. Anybody else…and I don’t feel so good. I feel sick.

Feeling like I’m improving at something I love. Because that grounds me and let’s me enjoy the company of others with the same passions.

Feeling like I need less than I thought I needed. Because needing less allows me to float into the sky without feeling scared, without feeling burdened to the ground.

Feeling always like I’m exploring.

Writing something really really awful. Because who gives a fuck.

Like this.

—-

So many times I hear from people who say: I have to follow the career (or marry the person), my parents want.

Or someone says: I have to go to college or nobody will give me a job.

Or someone tells me: you should be around these people. They can help you succeed. (But I don’t like them so what should I do?).

Or someone says: I want to have ten million dollars to relax. And own a big home so I can feel roots.

Or someone says: You have to vote in order to have your voice heard in society.

Or someone says: I feel stuck because I can’t quit my job because I have all of my family responsibilities.

I built a prison for myself also. It had triple locks. It had lots of guards. It had solitary confinement when I was bad. I didn’t much like my fellow prisoners but they were in here with me so I figured I would be with them.

I felt ashamed when I broke the rules of the prison. When I went broke. When I didn’t take the career I was supposed to.

When I didn’t return the calls or network with the right people or when I quit without warning the job I didn’t like or lost the homes I could no longer pay for.

Or when I was thrown out of school or when I didn’t pay the IRS or when I didn’t love enough the people I was supposed to love. Or the things I have done when I was so scared about money I thought I would go broke and die.

Or when I tried to live in a homeless shelter just to meet women or when I demanded love back from the women who didn’t love me or when I cried because I was scared that my life would disappear and nothing would be left behind.

This was solitary confinement. And it was lonely and I was afraid.

And one day I walked out.

And nobody ever saw me again.

That is some Lucas McCain kind of shit.

Lucas McCain Shooting

Lucas’ motives are consistently noble. No. Perfectly noble. Even when he’s left little choice but to use his modified Winchester Model 1892 to take out villains, he is delivering  justice. His guide is a higher calling. A shiny key to living a life in the rough.

When you do a Lucas on who or what threatens you (and you will; rifle not required), be noble in your intentions. Standing for something you believe in is important to not only you, but to others.

Half-assed nobility is better than none.

I worked for (was enslaved by) Charles Schwab. Plainly speaking, my perception, my code, defines them as bad guys in white hats. Difficult to detect a rotted underbelly unless you’re homesteading within their bowels for a spell (cowboy lingo).

They hide behind edicts created by terrifying gatekeepers and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on vigilante attorneys to intimidate and in many cases, destroy others. They’ll lie in cold-blood to slaughter the warm blooded.

They live to frame you for horse stealing or cattle rustlin’ and immediately call for your neck in a noose and a swing until you’re dead.

Underneath their so-called ‘code’ rolls an insidious dark residue of unethical dissonance. I know their employees work in fear. At least 100 of them have contacted me. They reach out from the shadows. Punch smartphone keys from hidden places. They ask me questions about how to break free. I’m happy to provide information.

It’s part of who I am. Help others. Don’t ask or seek anything in return.

I cut the wire fence. I spoke out. I did a Lucas McCain.They tried for years to wipe me out. High-noon style. I was willing to go broke exposing them. Ultimately, they were exposed for who they truly are. I’m still damaged. It’s fine. I learned. I won.

Oh, I forgot to mention: Every noble effort requires spilled blood. Your own or others. Not literally, silly. Well, perhaps, but let’s not go there. Could be money, an internal organ, a relationship.

Be prepared to lose something close or dear to you.

However I now live according to my own definitions. Rifleman-style.

Most likely, aggressively staking out villains is not for you. I don’t recommend it. Like The Rifleman, know when to take pressure off the trigger.

Those with personal codes think clear. Even under tremendous stress. They’re in control. Admittedly, I’ve made mistakes. Lucas rarely outed the rogues or took violent action unless those he loved or he, was in danger.

Recall what James wrote: Walk. Never be seen again. Fleeing from a cancerous environment can prevent well, cancer. Or worse. A long meaningless life within an unhealthy, suffocating environment.

“There’s dark corners in everybody’s lives. Sometimes it’s doesn’t pay to poke around in them.”

Lucas McCain

Like Lucas McCain did on several occasions, retreat from the gatekeepers. But walk with your front to them. Don’t take your steeled glance off them.

Don’t blink.

Never trust the fuckers.

Heed The Rifleman: Sometimes it pays to stay out of dark corners.

Be at peace. Take your ego out of it and understand you cannot change those who harm others even if they do it unintentionally. However, you have a choice. They can’t fathom a choice. In their minds, their worlds, there are no other roads.

Hey, you can move to another town (North Fork is coming along).

Perhaps you require more time, life experience, sorrow, regret, before you act. That’s OK, too.

Your time will come. No need to exhaust all your ammo right now. I’m not saying you won’t need to fire multiple shots. I’m saying it’s not required for every situation.

You’ll choose what’s right. Live to die. Or die to live. Codes don’t need to be complicated. Simple and powerful will get the chores done every time.

Go ahead: Get ready to fire your first shot. Tap into the diamond of your greatest powers. What are your personal beliefs? The ones the gatekeepers seduce you to believe cause grief for them and great obstacles for you.

The ones that scare the rule makers out of town.

“The rules tell me I can shoot. My own rules tell me that I hate gunfightin’ and will avoid it until I can’t.”

Lucas McCain.

Shot #2: Be Lucas McCain for only an hour a day. What you tell your brain, it will believe. It’s that simple. For an hour a day be – The Rifleman. Embrace his spirit of uncomfortable wisdom. Navigate a tough, admirable road you’ve been afraid to travel.

Like my friend Tanya. She’s battling a bully. She’s relentless to seek justice against a predator and helping other victims to speak up. The episode has affected her health. However, she’s steadfast and has a deep passion for justice.

The Rifleman lives in Tanya.

Like her, take one uncomfortable action that will draw you closer to understanding why you were put on the planet. One heroic act before you go.

Never be afraid to question your personal code. Lucas did. He was willing to listen when people he trusted advised him of a misconception. He kept an open mind. He was seasoned enough to adjust his thinking. Humble enough to apologize (and mean it).

 

badlands one

People tell me The Rifleman isn’t real.

I call those renegades out at high-noon to face their bullshit.

Perhaps I’m immersed. Too deep in writing for television. Regardless, fiction and fact are cut from two sides of a blade. One man’s reality is another man’s fiction. Fiction and fact co-exist and shoot from the same barrel.

One hour a day to heed a higher calling, an enriched life.

Not much to ask.

See those eyes? Lucas McCain is watching (I advise against resistance).

rifleman steel eye

Shot #3: Don’t let bad guys off the hook until (unless) they have proven change. Lucas’ history collided with his present, often.  He knew he couldn’t escape (for long) the bad inflicted on people or the horrific marks others have left.

In many episodes, the karma coach rolls into town. Like a wagon wheel across the mid-section. Straight out of the Oklahoma territory.

Lucas’ dark place.

Ironically, the beasts entered North Fork frequently (drama folks, is good television). At times, he overreacted to their presence. He relived what they did to him. Like it was yesterday, he recalled their evil behavior.

Those who had proven redemption were forgiven. The others? Well, a dead-eye trigger finger took care of them. Lucas believed everyone could change, even the vilest of characters. If not, western justice was served.

You’ve lived long enough to be fooled by the bad guys. I bet they outnumber your good souls 2 to 1. Most of them can’t change. Too far gone. You can’t shoot them. I wouldn’t advise it.

Unless ‘The Purge’ becomes a thing, then go for it. I keep my ‘purge’ list fresh.

Hey, you never know.

The purge two

Nah, you don’t need to resort to anything ugly. As a matter of fact, even under the intensity blasts of an August New Mexico sun, beauty will eventually appear out of the dirt for a patient sodbuster.

The strength in beauty bursts from heat. Cold is death.

Heat is life.

So don’t forgive the bad ones. Whatever you do. Don’t let them off the hook. Forgiveness just for the sake of it, for nothing, is death by ice. A soul in deep freeze. It signals you’ve given the bad ones a free pass. It’s you crawling belly down through the tundra, all the way cutting your gut open, dragging entrails.

Forgiving those who never seek redemption is a crime against your own heart.

Forgiveness foolishly exposes your hand, weakness. The seasoned poker players of North Fork would shoot you dead before you back away from the table. Embrace the anger. Let it take you. Allow it to scorch a personal path to victory.

The anger furnace will fuse your internal organs into barbed wire. Every cell grows sharp and deadly. You’ll become a master at detecting the presence of those who put your mental health at risk and seek to drain precious internal resources.

Because if you don’t learn, it’ll keep happening. Until the darkness saddles up alongside you and sticks to you forever like the spiny wings of Canadian thistle.

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

One early Saturday morning, Marshal Micah Torrance found out some disturbing news.

Micah

A woeful cloud recently rolled into town.

And he needed to think fast.

Or a friend’s life held in the balance.

Behind heavy-iron lattice of a lawman’s office office, Micah appears to require Lucas’ assistance with reinforcing a shelf to the deep interior of the middle jail cell.

For 62, the silver-haired lawman is surprisingly swift in gait. With Lucas holding the shelf against the wall, ready for the marshal to secure it, Micah makes his move.

Backwards exit.

On quiet footfalls. Steady. Micah clears the heavy cell door, shuts it quickly with a loud clank. Lucas at first believes his old friend is reciprocating a prank that embarrassed Micah the night before.

Far from it.

Micah was protecting Lucas from himself.

Reef Johnson was back.

Reef Johnson.

Once Lucas’ best friend.

Until.

He shot him in the back.

Until.

He left him to die.

Until.

He attempted to steal Lucas’ wife.

Ten years had gone by. For Lucas, it was a minute.

It was said that Lucas and Reef could pass for brothers back then.

A decade later, Lucas cared only about one thing.

To find this man. Track him. Destroy him.

No pass go. No collect $200. Just a death wish fulfilled.

Locked behind the cell door, the rage in Lucas’ eyes turned bars into molten steel.

“Micah, let me out of here. NOW!”

Tough lives roll the travails of revenge road.

Both parties lose a piece of themselves in the gravel. Their souls forever connected in a demon’s gambol. They spin and grind worn under the passage of time, or death.

Or confrontation.

From behind stark-black lines of shadows. Into dust-frizzed daylight that slivers through wooden slats of an old barn wall, a man emerges from a distant corner.

Tired of running.

As the enemy moves into half/dark half/light, Lucas full of anger, gun sharp and raised. He is a thick step closer to get a better look at the fire, his invidious focus.

As slit light slashes across Reef’s face you can’t stare. You can’t look away.

His hair matted, disheveled.

Deep lines across his cheeks, facial skin as sallow as worn leather.

“I’m here, Lucas. I can’t run any longer. Kill me! Get it over with!”

This man. What’s left of this man. A man who once resembled Lucas McCain, smooth of youth, clear of eye was nothing but a shell. He looked 77, not 37.

Lucas lowered his rifle. Revenge no longer held captive the ready grip on the trigger.

“Lucas! You can’t leave me like this! Please!”

As The Rifleman created distance between himself and that barn. That place where his anger ceased. The place he left in silence, yet heard the screams for miles…

He realized.

What he felt was pity.

The heave in Lucas’ chest was sorrow.

This wasn’t forgiveness. Release wasn’t forgiveness.

Never forgive those who shoot you in the back and leave you to die.

Time and the universe will take care of those villains in the proper manner.

In due time.

Sit back. Tend to your fields. Nurture the ground.

Be patient.

rifleman four

Shot #4: Forge strong financial boundaries around you and yours.

The financial landscape post-Great Recession is enemy territory.

Oklahoma badlands.

Your money isn’t safe.

There’s not enough barbed wire to protect the homestead.

And the soil. Underneath the dirt, a bounty in stocks for 6 years or so, is over. Frankly, many retail investors didn’t participate in the 159% total return of the S&P 500 off the March 2009 bottom, anyway. They’re still trying to recover from the 2000 tech wreck and a flat-lined market from 2000-2013.

It’s still a whirlwind ribbon of dust.

Lance Roberts, Clarity Financial’s Chief Investment Strategist revealed his truth, discovered his rifleman years ago through his thorough, no-spin analysis of the stock market and the economy.

Refreshing. Rare.

The accounting magic used to prop up earnings, the foolish optimism of estimated earnings, profit-margin reversion.  It’s all here, folks.  You want fiery shots of wisdom in your gut? Read it.

And people call The Rifleman fiction and the stock market reality.

It’s silly, isn’t it?

pensive

Lucas is not amused by this information.

You shouldn’t be either.

Shot #5:  Always teach and always expect nothing in return.

One of the greatest rewards in life is teaching others and expecting zero.  It’s a positive rate of return to the world, the universe. It makes the stars shine brighter above a blue-black New Mexico sky.

The Rifleman shares memorable words, bits of shotgun-wisdom with his son Mark. He never holds back. Even when Mark doesn’t quite get it.

Doesn’t matter.  Eventually Lucas’ invaluable guidance kicks in. On occasion, it saves Lucas’ hide.

 

“How can a man be so good with animals and so mean to people?

Lucas McCain: That’s a sign you’re growing up.

Mark McCain: What do you mean, Pa?

Lucas McCain: The older you get, the more questions there are without answers. ”

lucas and mark

Today, I teach young investors how to not get killed by the buy-and-hold investment mantra and how true diversification includes investment in personal education and health.

I guide gifted financial services pros away from big box financial retailers and direct them to havens that have fiduciary intent. It’s a part of what I do. They’re my Mark McCains. My kids. I set them forth with noble intentions and a different world view.

How will you teach today? Who will you inspire?

Will you seek nothing in return except the stare at the stars in the sky?

Shot #6: now the difference between dumb fear and smart fear. Those who are reckless with your heart, your money, your emotions. Predators who dig beneath your vulnerability and then rip you apart from the inside, should be feared and avoided.

Individuals who have a track record of apathetic and non-empathetic behavior should never be allowed on the ranch.  You’ll know them. You’ll be sickened by what you’re feeling. You’ll ignore what your intuition is telling you.

That’s plain dumb fear. And that will eventually leave you out in the desert with no water.

Vultures circling. Dead meat. You’ll crawl to safety but some part of you will be gone forever.

However, smart fear will keep you alive.

How do you develop smart fear?

Unfortunately, smart fear only comes with experience and knowledge.

You’ll require a construct. Questions are a solid foundation for said construct.

Create a simple framework to identify, fortify your defenses against enemies.

Start small. Big results.

All you need are three questions to get to the heart of anything.

My humble opinion.

Here’s a trio I use for dating (based on personal experience – yours will indeed, differ).

Let your inquiry flow naturally. You’ll become The Rifleman at separating friend from foe, now from forever, life from death.

How would you describe your long-term relationships with friends and family?

Big one. If she doesn’t have any close ties, or they’re full of weird sexual or resentful experiences I’m dodging a bullet.

Have you ever broken off an engagement? 

Sure, nobody’s perfect: I’m just looking for an inability to commit, serial monogamy. Murder. “He fell from the upper deck on a Carnival cruise.”

How many times have you accused others of something you’re guilty of yourself?

Somewhat inflammatory. Granted. On purpose. We’re all guilty. I’m seeking to get a handle on frequency, accusations, assumptions. “Never” is not a good answer either.

Three questions.

For everything.

To create a personal SFDS – Smart Fear Detection System.

“It’s the price you pay on staying alive and in your right senses, it’s manhood. And I can promise that when you come to the far end of it, you’ll raise your old hands to bless this wonderful life you’ve been given, taken all together with the roast beef, and the moon rises, and a boy and his father riding out in the morning, after you’re grown up to be a father yourself.”

 

Remember – SMART FEAR SAVES A LIFE. YOURS.

Shot #7: Get in or cause trouble for the right reasons.

My favorite bullet. Hits me in the heart every time.

There’s a point in your life where you don’t give a shit any longer about what others think. You’ve been living your code. Those who fit in stay. Those who don’t, go. Life gets simpler. You begin to figure shit out, you begin to help others figure shit out.

The ranch is humming along, the crops are bountiful, the soil is the right composite, the enemies are at bay.

Then there are times when the trouble in your life resembles weather systems. When the turbulence begins, you also know it will pass. Makes it easier to deal with the aftermath, the cleanup. Healing.

And you can create your own weather. Spark your own thunder as the needs arise. For the right reasons.

Shot #8: Don’t be afraid to confront a person with their truth.

Lucas will place himself in precarious situations. Smack in the middle of the rough.Tip toe on the blade.

He’ll go out of his way to wake people up. Help them understand their truth. Most of us live in a state of denial. We hurt others, we lie, we make promises, we kill, we have little empathy and yet we want to be perceived as ‘good’ people.

Frankly, most people are assholes. They use you for what you can provide and then move on. That’s fine.

But make sure to tell them they’re assholes and deal with the consequences.

Perhaps you’ll enlighten. Regardless, you gave them some shit to chew on whether they like it or not.

Shoot the asshole a verbal bullet. Then walk.

You know how to eat shit, right?

Best not to nibble.

Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Because if you deliver, you’ll eat it, too.

Comes with the territory.

Shot #9: Learn when somebody confronts you with yours.

If you dare to shoot, you must be willing to be shot. You can’t protect yourself from a gunfight. The key is for bullets to graze, but not kill.

You must respect your opponent, however. That’s the key.

Hey, if you’re going to learn a tough lesson best to get it from a person you respect for whatever reason. Doesn’t need to be a grandiose reason. There’s just something about this individual you admire.

When Lucas shoots his mouth off and Micah gives it to him straight, Lucas doesn’t like it but he listens because he respects the marshal.

“Lucas, I think you’re wrong about this one.”

If someone provides constructive criticism, it’s acceptable, normal, to hate it at first. It’s fine to feel the sting of the words like bullets, and bleed out.

Right there on Main Street, North Fork.

Just as long as you step back, dig out the fragment. Feel the pain. Examine it. Ponder why you were shot. Was it one of the best shots of your life?

Learn from the bullets that hit and take you off balance.

Just as long as you respect the shooter.

Otherwise it’s an enemy and you need to return the blast.

Rifleman-style.

Shot #10: Stick your neck out for those you love. Place your neck in the noose if it means someone you love remains happy, moves on, sticks around.

What else you got?

Sacrificing a part of yourself for someone you cherish isn’t a bad thing. It’s walking like McCain.

I did it for clients and a fiduciary right to care for them.

You’ve done it for children. Parents. Friends. Animals.

Recognize, remember, reward yourself for sticking your neck out for those you love.

Heck, you’ll be called horrible things. I know.

You think everybody loved Lucas?

Why do you really think he needed that rifle?

lucas rifle

The thing in this life is to stay alive. Ride easy.

Like in the old west.

Lucas McCain never spoke the words at the start of this blog post.

As I write dialogue for television I place words in mouths of fictional characters. The commentary would have been delivered perfectly however. I can hear the deep-baritone voice of The Rifleman resonating right now.

You don’t get endless shots at this stuff because eventually you’re in adult diapers and drooling into a liquefied breakfast.

Give yourself a number. I chose four.

Four bullets in my rifle.

I believe Lucas suffered from overwhelming, lasting grief that he channeled into something bigger than himself.

Last, I learned from Lucas that death isn’t frightening.

Bad memories?

Ghosts from the past?

Now they’re frightening.

They haunt, relentlessly.

Yet there’s something good that arises.

When the demons dance.

They create.

Riflemen.

Dedicated to radio host,  veteran broadcaster, all-around good guy and most important: Hard-core “The Rifleman” fan – Gary McNamara. 

Special mention to dear friend Tanya Bilisoly, Austin realtor extraordinaire who is taking on a bully, living her “Rifleman moment,” right now.

 

 

How a Daughter Goes From Killer to Savior at 30,000 Feet.

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“I hate God!”

ten year screamng

I was less than an inch from my mother’s face. I could feel her breath. I spit in her eye by mistake. She was kneeling. Stare down at urban sunrise #1,201. This one? This one crossed boundaries.

Fleshy, fatty boundaries.

fat boy

The tiny, crucifix attached to my underwear every morning to “keep me under God’s care,” was a four-pointed golden thorn in my side. A ritual I had grown to dread. Years of passive-aggressive defiance went ignored. I had no say in this tradition passed on from God-knows-who.

It was a worthless exercise. At least to me.

Mom never missed a day. It was her thing.

The power of an undergarment idol was fleeting. I was hesitant to bring up the topic.

Perhaps it couldn’t get good reception or a signal from the heavens buried under three layers of clothing. The thickest corduroy Korvette’s carried. Like the rabbit ears on our old black & white Panasonic television, I didn’t trust “the cross” to do the job.

Religious “underpinnings” failed to protect from constant bullying (about my husky-sized everything). A huge miss.

Although, I come to believe that “God’s care” may have spared me the fate of the yearbook’s chubby road-bump of the year when Mr. K the third-grade gym teacher, speeding in his Pontiac, just missed turning my gut into the consistency of overcooked pasta.

To this day I believe he was intentionally seeking to run me down. I was never able to prove it. But I KNOW. The best news I heard last year was that he died two years ago.

Perhaps all that pinning finally kicked in. Nah.

Who am I kidding?

From diaper to big boy briefs, this small crucifix was a huge part of my childhood. A religious layer under layers. The safety pin increased in size, too – powerful and sharp enough to pierce undershirts and thick waistbands of white Fruit Of The Looms. It was the size of a small pocket knife. Against my skin it felt heavy, like an anchor. It was my personal spear.

Until that morning in October. I remember Mom’s delicate touch was uncharacteristically heavy. Her technique was sloppy. Like her eyes were closed. She had been fighting with dad all night. Non-stop since he staggered in from Delmonico’s after midnight. Her finesse now a fumbled mess of tangled fingers. I didn’t trust her to pin me with the usual grace. I kept looking down. Sweating. I tightened against what I believed was coming.

The pin penetrated like a hot blade. Deep through fat. Blood rolled down in a series of thick, bulbous drops and pooled at my feet now sweating and sticking to a heavily varnished wood floor.

All my exaggerated fears about this moment had come true.

What’s up Jesus? A nail in a cross. Now a pin in the abdomen? What gives?

Frustration and pain compelled me to unleash frustration in mom’s face. I was possessed. Perhaps she observed my father’s anger in me as I bellowed, cried at the top of my lungs.

“I hate God! No, I hate you, too!”

I knew I was dead. Disrespecting your mother in an Italian family doesn’t happen without dire consequences. It’s a no-win for a child. The repercussions are as close to fatal as you can get within the law. Not even police got in the middle of an Italian mother and her kid in the heat of a scolding.

The next move startled me. Her strike was a lightening bolt. Then a loud click between my ears. I felt warmth release from my nose and liquid down my throat. Since mom was lean, mostly bone, it was like getting slammed by a human sledgehammer.

The stab was nothing compared to the slap. The blood released immediately as my bleached-white crew neck t-shirt saturated red. To black.

I was petrified then.

And I am now.

Another female seeks blood. Terrific.

This time it’s my 17 year-old, 85 pound daughter.

Don’t let her petite frame fool you.

She’s a killer.

Hell.

All of us die a little each day as our children grow. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, right?

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

killer daughter

I study her profile. Separated by an aisle on a flight from New York.

The salt of blood overwhelms my nose. I can taste it. I’m pinned to the aluminum skin of the aircraft.

I’m claustrophobic. I’m now the insane guy you read about who opens an EXIT door miles above the earth and gets sucked into the afterlife.

I’m sweating. Underneath my skin is ice.

It’s panic. Out of nowhere. My right hand is firm around one of the plastic handles on the door. The word EXIT is taunting, telling me that things will be better if I just listen.

One pull and I’m free.

Crazy thoughts bounce inside my head. They are loud enough to drown out the sound of engines.

I ring for the attendant. I need a Bloody Mary.

All I think about is how small I am. Insignificant. As a parent I hold little if any control over her. Or me.

I’m driving blind. I’m scared.  So is she. The thought escalates scare to hardcore terror. What roads will she travel? Alone. Together with another. With whom? I encourage her to consider a lesbian lifestyle. I tell her men don’t know how to wipe their asses good enough. Anything that gets her to switch teams. It’s not working. Yet. I give her advice that I know she can’t use. I’m not stupid enough to have a handle on most of what effects her. She’s her own person now. What did I miss? I know I missed something. What’s her greatest fear? I’m afraid to ask. Because I think it’s mine, too.

I’m headed for the handle on the EXIT door again. My grip is firm enough to white my knuckles.

I see my mother at 16. I study her delicate features. The cabin goes sepia. In her face and what’s beneath. In dark eyes. Pools of challenges thrive and collide. Nothing clear. Replete with angst.

From aisle seat to aisle seat I stare across and realize my mother has returned. The same edge separated by generations and together on this plane. Teetering between hope and hopelessness. A cutting blade. Back and forth inside me. The bleed I never wanted to experience again. A woman who shouldn’t have had children is alive again. Cast thee from my daughter, woman!

At times I’m hesitant to love her. It’s uncomfortable to be around her sometimes. I never closed the circle with the doppelganger. She’s a flesh mirror to the past. I see right through her and it’s my childhood, not hers. She clarifies and muddies everything.

I’m smashed in the nose thinking about the day in 2000 when my mother died on the other end of the phone while I was at work. I tried to give her peace, I did really. From my cubicle during a stock market crash. I cared more about what Intel stock was doing than stopping to comprehend that my mother would be dead before Ma Bell (she was a thing then), disconnected us.

I told her that grandpa was waiting. I heard her say she was sorry and then a man’s voice boomed in the receiver – “She’s gone.” I said nothing. Hung up. Went back to warm calling sales leads. Watching Intel. I didn’t leave work early. Didn’t think about it.

Until I finished the fake, expensive cocktail.

My daughter is frail. I see it. I accept and accommodate. Well, I accommodate. She’s delicate as a fine china plate with a crack in the middle. Her constitution sometimes strong, other times as light as tissue. I’m responsible. Well, my DNA is. It’s faulty. It carries the insanity gene. I was always scared of this. Now the ailments that took down a parent arise. The depression, especially. Today at least there’s medication. In the 70’s, psycho-doctors believed hooking your brain to electrodes and sending electricity through the head was a viable remedy.

I’m a marginal father at best. I’m not certain I’m wired for this parenting thing. I observe the actions of who I consider excellent dads and try to mirror them. I fail miserably. I hold back. Oh,on the surface I’m engaged but underneath I’m so nervous I can’t remain in the present long enough to enjoy the father/daughter moments.

I’m constantly slipping back 40 or so years to the time when I loved a woman so much yet she betrayed me by skipping out when I was a teen.

Maybe I’m not ready or mature enough to heal.

Until that return trip. Perhaps it was a lack of oxygen.

I realized that life-shifting changes do not need to arise from adversity. Sure, hardship ignites awareness. It happened for me in dramatic fashion on several occasions. However, I’ve learned that big decisions to alter course can be subtle. Uneventful. There’s a click in the head (I think) and a decision is made to change and never look back. And you don’t.

So I decide. Just like that.

She’s a savior. Not a killer.

Because that’s how easy it is.

To decide.

Random Thoughts:

I begin with gratefulness. My daughter is a connection to my past. I have been given another chance to heal by understanding through her, what my mother must have gone through at a time when depression and anxiety were ignored or denied. I know now mom must have suffered in silence. Little Italian girls were supposed to be perfect. No matter what. The impossible devil of perfection drilled into them daily. Now I get it. Finally.

All I do is try to be a better father every moment. In turn, my actions allow me to empathize and forgive a parent who battled but succumbed to the flames of inner demons.

I watched her burn. Did nothing to stop it.

I take that back.

I was ten years old. My mind was on Mad Magazine and masturbation. Not a 31 year old female with ignored mental illness in the midst of a seminal breakdown. I tried my best to understand and interpret adult situations.

I delivered cheerleader speeches. I’d stand on her bed pontificating like a midget politician  – “Mom, it’s you and me against the world – We can do it! We can get through this!”

Lots of tears. They did nothing. The drugs, the men, the alcohol, the fears, the electroshock treatments, drowned out my constant pleading for a short semblance of normalcy. Topless and drunk in the courtyard of our Brooklyn apartment building on a school morning was enough to seal my fate as the freak of the neighborhood. And still I tried.

Now I know there was nothing she could do.

woman burning

Through my daughter I forgive my mother for what I lost. A childhood.  I came to understand how the illnesses, the fears were too much to fight. I wish I had the opportunity to tell her that internal demons are scarier than hell. I wish I could say I understand why she had pinned that stupid cross to me every day without fail.

“Please God, don’t let him inherit my weaknesses. Protect him.”

female depression

It hit me. Sitting in the exit row. Finally.

Now I know. The ritual worked.

Big changes can happen without fanfare. Just decide. Don’t make it a big deal. Stay casual. Calm. Today I’ll save more. I’ll say no to lending money to others. I’ll find another job that pays more for what I’m worth. I’ll get up and go to the gym. The less you think about it and do it, the more successful you’ll be.

Like me.

When I decided. Released my grip on the exit.

And re-entered.

Accepted the truth.

I look down and read:

“We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other.”

Self Reliance – Essays First Series 1895 Ralph Waldo Emerson.

I have that cross. It’s a tarnished symbol after so many years.

Its power is gone.

Or is it?

As the plane landed, I couldn’t decide for sure.

I’m certain I never will.

And I’m at peace with that.

Six Money Habits Of Unhappy Couples.

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We’ve all heard the horror stories of couples suffering in a toxic money mix.

Married or unmarried – it doesn’t matter.

screaming married

Financial harmony is crucial to a couple’s long-term synergy with money.

From my experience, the ones with cohesive financial strategies are the most successful.

Over the years, I’ve documented several unfavorable money behaviors exhibited by couples. In greater than 95% of the cases observed, the relationships ended on bad terms.

The top six:

1). They disrespect each other’s credit. One of the worst fiscal violations I’ve witnessed is how credit is misused in a relationship which causes a party’s credit score to falter as credit card balances are increased leaving the trusting partner in a relationship, on the hook for the bills. I have seen otherwise smart individuals allow a partner to use their credit and turn a blind eye to misuse. Until it’s too late and they’re in a hole financially – spending years paying back big debts.

Rule: Never permit a loved one, including a marriage partner to take advantage of your available credit and perhaps ruin your credit score, whether it’s intentional or not. It’s not a matter of trust; it’s a matter of control. You must be the steadfast gatekeeper of your available credit and scores. If it’s true love, the other party will appreciate your discipline. If you do share credit, make sure to carefully examine all credit card statements and access credit reports annually for free at www.annualcreditreport.com.

2). Lack of communication. Especially when it comes to life-changing financial decisions or big purchases. It’s ok if you fail to mention lunches or an occasional discretionary purchase. When it comes to large expenditures like expensive durable goods or making big decisions that may affect both parties like a new job offer or decision related to retirement, it’s best to share all relevant information with a partner or spouse before moving forward. Even if it’s a wise decision, the action of sharing and receiving feedback is crucial to the health of a relationship you cherish.

Rule: Before financial decisions bigger than $100 bucks are executed, think twice and open up beforehand. Take to heart information shared through open dialogue. Get an objective third party involved in the mix to listen to both sides and weigh the evidence.

3). Little consideration for the blueprint. Deep in you is a money DNA. Since a small child, you have handled money based on experiences. You also learned from observation and communication – parents, grandparents. If your money mindset conflicts with a partner, that’s ok. There are methods of compromise. If your money mindset is disregarded or even ridiculed, then it’s time to question the viability of the relationship.

Rule: Whether you’re a deep saver or big spender, be receptive to the manner you’re treated if your partner disagrees with your money DNA. The couples who endure are the ones who find a working medium or a hybrid DNA strategy. The key is to watch for language of judgment and money behavior that jeopardizes the current situation or the health of the future household balance sheet.

4). Multiple bailouts are acceptable. You know the type. They mess up with money and then seek others to bail them out like parents or partners. Then the same reckless behaviors are repeated and bailouts continued. It’s bad news. Rarely do I observe couples last long traveling this endless loop. Usually, an observant partner is suckered in more than once and leaves the relationship financially and emotionally fragile.

Rule: A one-time bailout, depending on your financial situation is acceptable. No excuses or money provided when similar mishaps are repeated. It’s a hard rule and it will save you financially. Perhaps you leave with your self-esteem intact, too.

5). Financial success is resented. According to a Pew Research Study from May 2013, a record 40% of all households with children under the age of 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family. To keep it in perspective, the share was 11% in 1960.

Since the financial crisis I have witnessed women taking additional charge of their finances (and the families) and men in the relationship growing increasingly resentful.

I have worked with couples where women have become increasingly unhappy when partners have taken on additional work responsibilities and time away from their personal activities.

Resentment is poison to any close relationship and detrimental to elevating finances to the next level.

Rule: A resentful attitude over a partner’s success requires thorough and truthful self-reflection. Instead of wasting precious energy on negative emotions, objectively witness and attempt to find ways to mirror the good habits of a successful partner. Ask for guidance. Be open to criticism if it’s positive and leads to self-improvement.

6). Fractured retirement planning and savings goals. Couples who are hesitant to blend retirement goals and fail to align their efforts to meet jointly-created goals, ostensibly fall behind or at the least, miss out on the synergies that accompany working together toward a comfortable retirement.

Rule: Retirement planning is a partnership objective. Coordinating retirement account salary deferrals, examining company retirement plan allocations as one and periodically reviewing progress together must be mandatory for couples who are serious about the quality of their retirement years.

Random Thought:

Couples can be a galvanized force to greater wealth or rapidly deteriorate their combined net worth.

Ongoing financial drama can ruin a relationship.

Be open to the signs, fix them.

walking away

 

Or walk…

Stones to Gravel to Dust: 10 Ways To Grind Your Way To A Better Life.

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Amazing.

When you consider barriers in your mind and heart for the purpose of protection from the illusory risk of being hurt or disappointed, you eventually arrive at a crossroad. When regret over the moments you forgot to live intersect with the art you failed to create, the souls you missed to touch.

Something inside slams the life out of you. Your face is smashed against the stones.

heart wall

In time, walls absorb warmth and dehydrates the health of human vibrancy and a passion for discovery, the willingness to learn. It sucks the all color out of your elevation, dulls the tastes in the mouth; the art you once created withers into gray muck.

And.

Apathy crowds out empathy with each new brick.

The process occurs in great stealth, like absorbed vapor; slowly the walls drain life’s air from who you were before the shit bag of who you are (but it’s not who you really are.)

Walls destroy iterations of all that’s noble in you. The “you” back to childhood – when you were a sponge and innocence opened doors to enrichment (and a few worthy bruises).

photo

You’re.

Eyes wide closed. Blind in the dark. Blinder in the bright. Full steam forward, head down, guarded.

Numb.

Dumb.

Void of passion.

.blindfold cliff

Oh, the hours, the years, the efforts to create what you believe keeps you safe.

Until events outside your control (and those subconscious within).

Rock the foundation.

And reveals the wall for what it is.

Enemy.

evil shadow wall

The first crack in the wall rocked me good. I was sad to realize – I was living a sham. Lifeless corporate job where my sense of well-being was uprooted by assholes in ivory towers almost on a daily basis, an unhealthy infatuation with people I wouldn’t give a second glance at today, and too much alcohol to dull the bullshit, made it palatable.

I was running from pain. At least I thought.

Part of the agony came from the growing realization that I was needing to break free, get my life back, to survive and thrive for whatever years were left.

I helped myself as much as possible with mental stamina I absorbed from the energy of others; people no longer in my life were efficient wall destroyers, too. I’m thankful they were there to take pick axes to it.

However, as I live in peace, I’m grateful every day they’re gone. Ground to dust and cast to the winds of the past.

They no longer effect me.

All the precious energy wasted building and reinforcing structures that had one mission – to live and destroy the builder.

I’m still not sure about the genesis of the angst. Why or when do people decide to chip away at their wall beasts? The chisels, the motivations are different for everybody.

A shock perhaps (for me it was).

A morbid curiosity of what life would be like outside high walls.

The right teachers come along, awaken you, assist with the deconstruction?

Yes.

How much of yourself does it take to turn massive fortresses to stone and then grind them to dust?

How many times must you crush who you were to form a greater self that awakens in the present?

How much of yourself will you lose in the process?

Are you up for the job?

stooge pile

Every chip is a strand of DNA, attached to a part of who you were. And the rubble keeps piling up. Unsettling grit underfoot. The foundation is no longer smooth; the road is covered in rough-busted remnants.

You are troubled by the feel of gravel underneath.

And ahead.

An unsteady path wobbles your resolve.

But you must not stop.

Because to look back is to choke on the dust of vulnerability. Of failure.

It’s a fucking wonder there’s energy left for anything else you know – like working, or checking your e-mail.

As you.

Cut off the oxygen, sever rotted death lines, birth new life threads, and ultimately – a healthier way of being emerges.

A cleaner intake. An enlightened outtake.

Dying along the way is the ticket to a stimulating ride. Sucks.

But that’s the way it is.

Unfortunately, not many are up for the toll it takes on the body, or the weight of the job on the mind. Too immature or self-centered – they’re missing the emotional quota to get smashed by their own stones, pained by the gravel they don’t have enough guts to stumble over, too.

They’re too full of hubris, cowardice to breathe in the dust and puke it up.

breathing

Also, I admit – it’s difficult.

I was thinking:

Where does it say that everybody you encounter needs to tackle this fucking monster wall to get to the deep of you? You crush anyone who goes near it yet you seek someone to crack the code, find the weak spot? Confusing and exhausting.

What forms this barrier to entry?

How high does it go?

Who created this rule?

My grandmother, when something was beyond her comprehension (or outside her little Brooklyn neighborhood), would say to me:

“It’s sky-less.”

What seals this wall beast?

What makes up the mortar?

bloody wall

Oh, I don’t know. It’s a different blend for everyone. I think it’s rejection, disappointment, misguided conclusion, overthinking. Projection. Abandonment. Fetishes of sorts.

Blast-furnace in another quarter of trash from the past you thought was long dead, and watch how you lose control over the entire project.

And you’re gonna need a bigger bulldozer.

To smash your creation. Eye-opening, earth-shattering heavy lifting to get deep underneath this structure, uproot and topple it.

When the dust settles (and for me it took roughly two years), you’ll be thankful for the project. As the wall comes down, second chances emerge.

Relish each tragedy, every revelation; appreciate the loves won and lost. Your choice and challenge is to either forge the masonry or knock out a stone, look through the hole and observe the beauty beyond the barrier.

Consider these ten ways to grind your way to a better life.

Random Thoughts:

1). Tear down walls, erect sails. Create a structure that’s light and captures the air of your passions and creativity. Sure, even an ill wind may throw you off course a bit, however, unlike a wall, a sail will not allow you to stagnate. It won’t close you in. A great challenge is to navigate your course and learn when to expand or contract your sails.

2). Replace heavy bricks. Replace impenetrable bricks of sorrow and regret with a willingness to be open and pliable. Anything that will allow you to see farther than you have before and feed your resiliency is worth the possible risk of hurt. Living within the boundaries of the past to guide present actions will suffocate your rebuilt childlike quality of promise.

3).Take out assholes. Then work diligently to discover and value teachers who will fill mind holes. As walls are razed, it provides openings, even through the dust, for mentors to enter space once occupied by fear and denial. Once your teachers begin to invade, dangerous structures become less menacing. They weaken and crumble at a faster pace than you can accomplish alone.

4). Take risks of the heart and say “fuck it” often. Now that walls are falling, your heart is out there. No protection. Exposing a vulnerable self to others is throwing yourself in front of an emotional bullet; a pure act of love. Consider the act a peace offering to those in your world and ones you seek in your space. It’s not going to feel warm and fuzzy at first.

To evolve in an age of soullessness will never feel right, initially. What ostensibly makes you at ease will always take great courage.

If you make an error in judgment (and you will), consider how resilient your heart truly is. I have learned that the heart is a bottomless well of love and commitment.

5). The words you use mean everything. At one time, I would invite words that formed at the foot of the wall and bled into the foundation. Defeatist sentences that only served the wall and never served me. I’ve noticed the word “why” weakens my spirit. It promotes a victim behavior. “How” is empowering. Ask yourself better questions with positive words and see how your thoughts take you down roads no longer confined by false boundaries.

6). Take a wrecking ball to conventional thoughts about money. Saving all your money in company retirement plans instead of brokerage accounts limits tax flexibility when you need the money the most. It’s financial industry dogma. Why must you purchase a house? How is it the American Dream? Is it truly an investment or merely a place to live?

7). Create and maintain accountability statements. I will be credit-card debt free by January 2015. I will learn a (specific skill) by December 2014. My internal walls are slated too fall today. Right now. Be accountable to the moment you’re in. What it means. How you got here.

8). Find a force. What can you do to turbocharge a positive process? I’ve used anger, fear, passion, revenge, love, faith, hope, hopelessness, laughter, teachers, students, clients, wonderful friends in the media and those creating art for award-winning television fiction/drama. Suck whatever energies you can to propel you forward until you’re a self-sustaining accomplishment machine. I’ve learned that good people are willing to help. To ask for help is a wonderful force. It’s strength, not t weakness to seek guidance. Provide as much gratitude in return.

9). Build protection. Wait a minute. You just advised me to break down walls. OK. One exception: Build layers around your passions. Do it so others can’t discourage you. Protect your resolve with all you’ve got. I’ve observed how many people and organizations bust out the big artillery to focus solely on the destruction of your dreams. They thrive and multiply on failure. I have learned to tune the destroyers out so well, I laugh at their silliness. So will you. I can’t wait to see the smile on your face.

10). Relish what’s in store for you. Can you imagine what’s ahead without debilitating speed bumps and barriers to stop you? The influential people you will touch, and who will touch you. The elevation of mind and spirit. The long-dead exhilaration that comes from resurrecting your true self. The stronger bonds of love and friendship. Like you have never imagined.

A castaway of dead souls.

More “fuck you” in blank faces.

You’re taking “auto” out of “pilot” now.

Fully engaged in the present.

Take the wheel now, squeeze hard.

Feel white-knuckle excitement.

Plow pedal-down fast through what’s held you back. Beat you down.

Watch the dust dance as you create a path of your own.

Observe how the losers choke on it.

And laugh, laugh, laugh.

Dedicated to Amy Bishop.

I Called her Daisy: A Love & Money Story.

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I was only with her for six hours but I had a name for her; I called her Daisy. I wanted her around longer. Naming her was a reach for hope. Hope she would make it.

To some thoughtless prick, Daisy was a living thing to be thrown away-destined to die on a busy Texas street. She hugged a dirty curb as best she could, her head too heavy to hold up from oncoming traffic. It was only a matter of time before Daisy’s frail dark frame would melt into a dark roadway and she would be killed by unsuspecting or uncaring drivers.

It was around 8:40pm. I drove a path from the gym I rarely take. I’m also seldom at the gym at deep night hours. I’m not overly religious but truly believe I was to come across Daisy for a reason. As I passed her up, she was literally sitting in a puddle of dirty water, barely able to move.

For a very brief second I too thought of driving on; I wanted to see my daughter and it was late. I played out in my head what was to happen next: It was inevitable this thin, weak puppy was going to be road kill. I was praying just one of the cars passing quickly would stop. Nobody did. As I looked in my rearview mirror I could see this poor thin animal attempt to stand. As she attempted to walk I could see the limp.

It was too much for me, I pulled over to get her.

I approached slowly; I didn’t want to scare her into traffic. As I methodically moved closer she got up and I stopped-talking to her gently with each step. Thankfully, she veered the opposite way toward a wooded area and not into the road. As she dragged herself and cowered behind a makeshift billboard in high brush, I was taken aback by her thin appearance.

She was tall, but looked half the size of a normal border-collie/lab mix (the vet educated me). She was not much more than skin, bones and big expressive eyes which followed me (and remained with me for hours after). I knew it was a she from the frayed pink and rhinestone collar around a thin neck.  Once I felt she was safe, I retrieved a bottled water from my car.

Thirst was the only thing ferocious about this pathetic soul.

I carry a few huge bath towels in my trunk. I got them, scooped the puppy up in my arms and rushed her to a local emergency clinic. There was a two-hour wait to see a vet-I was willing to stay as long as necessary. Once we were in to see the doctor, I felt optimistic; in the waiting room Daisy got up a bit, wagged her tail, appeared curious about her new surroundings and me especially.

A little movement tired her quickly, though yet she never took her dark eyes off me. The receptionist called her eyes “soulful,” and there was something especially sad about them. In a very short period of time I was hooked. In love.

In my head I was thinking about how much this was going to cost (the talkative front desk person at the emergency clinic reminded me consistently they were not “good Samaritans,” and treatment was not free). Exactly what I was willing to pay to get this girl healed up and the strategy to find this abandoned sweetie a good home was somewhat calculated.  My heart was a different story. Already, I added the cost of a new dog house and development of a cordoned-off place in my backyard.

The ongoing lessons about puppy diseases, especially canine parvovirus, began to dampen my hopes a bit. When it was suggested I could spend $300 I didn’t flinch and approved a test for the virus and an X-ray on a swollen left paw. By then I knew Daisy was approximately seven months old and had a whole life still ahead of her. Obviously, her future was taking a turn for the better. At least in my heart it did.

A couple of more hours passed. By that time, Daisy was asleep soundly on a cold exam table. I covered her so her shivering would cease and stroked her head incessantly. I spoke gently in her closest ear and she’d awaken to stare at me a bit and then put her head back down. By this time I knew there was no way I could part with her and would do what I could to make her well again. She deserved that.

After the parvovirus test came back positive, I was told it would cost $1,200 to take care of her for the night. My financial bandwidth expanded. Ok. Sold. Another hour passed. My firm belief was the investment in this girl was worth it; after all we would be together a long time.

Based on the increasing flow of serious patients, I was getting piecemeal information from three different sources and it felt like forever. It was now four hours later and with each bit of data I was riding an emotional high, then a low. I was on a high on the last round of discussion, until the vet came in again. Low blow time.

“Have you decided what you would like to do?” the vet asked me.

“I’m willing to pay to get her well, you said $1,200 right?” I blurted out. In my mind, the money was spent. I already mentally accounted for it and documented it in my I Phone budget app to make it official. I visualized a sliding scale and figured I was in the mid-range of what I would be willing to spend. It shamed me a bit since I was monetizing a life.

“Well, that’s only for overnight.” She continued as I began to feel a pit growing in my stomach. “In the morning she would need to go to another vet office for daily treatment. At night she would need to be transported back here to complete 24-hour care.”

I wasn’t told this crucial additional bit of information originally. As I mentioned, data received was scattered and piecemeal. After that bombshell I was left alone again as the sole, overworked doc on duty needed to exit for another emergency walk in.

By this time I’m stroking Daisy’s head and ear so hard, I’m afraid I’m going to pull the skin away from her skull. I’m thinking odds, probabilities and fiscal bandwidth. Then I suddenly felt like I was cheating on my current pup Princess. The figure $5 thousand popped into my mind too-no idea why. Would I spend this sum on Daisy who I barely knew but felt responsible for?

What if it was Princess in her place? What was Princess’ life worth?

What if Princess got sick soon and I already spent a fortune on Daisy?

I was stress-testing my fiscal parameters. And would Princess bite Daisy after all this? What were the odds Daisy would get well even after days, possibly weeks of intense treatment of 24-hour intravenous and monitoring? The vet was very cryptic to say the least. I needed more information to make a decision. And I was frustrated. I’m usually the one who is responsible and is consulted to resolve situations. Now, I just felt queasy and my brain was reeling. I realized the one who is customarily consulted did not like the unfamiliar role of one who required consulting.

Another hour passed. It was almost as if they timed a visit like clockwork every hour. I was beginning to think I could set a clock by the emergency crew.

This time a stocky vet technician entered. She was refreshingly straightforward, in my face and I was appreciative. “Rich, overall, this treatment will run $5 – $8 thousand by the time you’re done and there’s no assurance she will get better. The virus is pretty far advanced and the odds are not good.” She fell silent after that.

My dreams of a dog house and run in my new roomy backyard began to fade. The awkward introduction of Princess to Daisy also seemed to be more of a wish than a future reality.

“What would you do?” It just came out deadpan, without thought. I didn’t want it to, but it did; I did not want to hear the answer and I could feel my face tighten to a wince after the question left my lips. I rarely feel truly helpless-I can count the times on one hand. This night I moved on to the other hand.

“I would consider euthanasia. It might be for the best. It’s what I would do.”

Well, this was a horrible turn. But wait-Daisy appeared to be getting better from the time I picked her up out of the dirt; she was more responsive to me, her gums were pink (supposedly a good sign). How can it be the odds were so poor? The technician was sure they were and she had seen many of these cases. During this time, the poor puppy was sleeping deeply but I can tell her breathing was labored.

It was a decision I didn’t want to make. I make decisions all the time about lots of client dollars I treat as my own, but this was truly a dilemma for me and I was now up against the wall.

Next hour the vet returned, this round she had a bit more time for me. It was almost like the tech had prepped her. We reviewed the details again.

After six hours of tests, dialogue and anguish I made the decision to do what I thought was humane for Daisy. The vet and tech shed tears and thanked me for not leaving this poor girl on the side of the road. Supposedly, a parvovirus death is very painful. I didn’t want her to suffer, I wanted Daisy to have peace however, I wanted her to have that peace with me for years to come. I hated the decision and hated the fact that I took that road from the gym-at least at the time. I asked for a few more minutes with this gentle puppy who trusted me to take care of her and here I was soon to be responsible for ending her short life.

I whispered in her ear that I loved her (I truly did), I said goodbye full of tears and as I moved closer to her face full of fleas she licked me lightly on the cheek….

Of course I documented my experience on Facebook along with pictures. I also kept my daughter Haley abreast of all developments and I’m glad she wasn’t there with me. Facebookl friends were surprisingly sympathetic and caring and it was appreciated. The next day my good friend Stephanie (an ardent animal lover) and I exchanged commentary about the experience through instant messaging. I will spare all the colorful expletives about Daisy’s former allegedly irresponsible owners.

Steph: “What are you doing today?”

Rich: “Don’t know yet. Work being done on house. Just writing.”

Steph: “What you did for that poor girl is why we save. So we can help innocent animals in a pinch.”

Rich: “I was hoping she would be ok. I would have built a space for her in the yard. She was only 7 months old.”

Steph: “Of course you would have kept her.”

I rolled right over Stephanie’s comment; perhaps I was too full of grief to consider it or respond to what I thought later was such a prolific statement: What you did for that poor girl is why we save. So we can help innocent animals in a pinch.”

Random Thoughts:

1). Saving is so much more than something you do for future goals like retirement or education. It’s about having choice and occasionally it’s about the right now. Guess I always knew it; I’ve been preaching this money stuff for years. But sometimes you can lose sight of the obvious until a series of words and actions conjoin to re-spark your perspective. Money is part of life and sometimes it allows you to make a decision out of love. Some thoughts:

2). Occasionally saving money is to make a choice for today, not tomorrow. Would I even had the ability to help Daisy if I was overburdened with debt and didn’t have a strong saving discipline? Probably not. I would have possessed little if any financial flexibility to save this precious girl if her odds of recovery were good. Saving today can help you today, perhaps on your way home from the gym or grocery store.

3). Why you save reflects your passions and beliefs about money: Perhaps you save to give to a specific charity, or to help an animal or take your family on a special trip every year. It’s not the money, it’s what it adds to the fabric of your life and the good you do with it based on strong feelings and beliefs. Eventually some of the money is spent on a form of enrichment. Or at least, I HOPE SO.

4). Your household budget should be on the tip of your fingers, or as close to you as your smart phone. I was able to assess my budget and financial situation quickly. I was under enough stress already with the decision to help a dying animal. I don’t want to fly blind financially. Sit down alone or with a professional to understand the daily dynamics of your finances.

5). Saving is a gift to yourself. Even though I abhorred the decision I was required to make about Daisy’s life, I realized after my head cleared a bit, the money empowered me to save her from a prospective horrible death she certainly didn’t deserve. What if I wasn’t financially prepared? I would have needed to call animal control perhaps and I would have never been able to sit well with that decision, at all.  I’m grateful to have crossed this puppy’s path; it was money well spent to give Daisy peace.

Years ago, a country music singer/mentor told me: “You name the things you love.” I realized for me to say I called her Daisy was blatantly incorrect.

I named her Daisy because for six hours, I loved her-because she needed me to. I still do. I will always. Are you saving for what and who you love for tomorrow and most important, today?

Think about it before a decision is thrown in the road on your way home.

I know she rests in peace. Love and money was able to provide a few more hours of comfort.

And I would do it again.

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10 Life Lessons from a Grandma – Today is Everyday.

Lord knows nana Nellie wasn’t a looker.

At 40 she looked 70. She was always old.

Nana was the “custodian.” at my Brooklyn, New York public school.

Custodian: Fancy word for janitor.

It embarrassed me how she cleaned toilets.

I would look to avoid her in the halls.

As I get older, I realize the impression she made on me. 

Grandma’s life lessons.

Random Thoughts:

1). Screw Stereotypes – Nana loved people for who they were, not their appearances. She would provide food to families at the school who were having difficult financial times and hold fundraisers for the less fortunate. And she was one of the less fortunate.

2). Be Nurturing to Children – Nellie would dress as Santa every year, walk down  school halls and hand out pounds of candy to the kids. They loved her. I was so embarrassed. Odd. Imagine someone dressed as Santa delivering candy at a public school today? That is grounds for dismissal or perhaps – arrest.

3). Be Proud of Who You Are – Nana was nana. She dressed like crap but had a heart of gold. She would wear this hideous battleship gray and white school uniform that made her appear more matronly than she really was. I rarely saw her dress stylishly. And people could care less. Neither did she.

4). Make a Killer BLT – Nana was a good cook but her BLTs were something to die for. I know her secret to a mind-blowing BLT sandwich and will take it to the grave.

5). Smile & Say Hello – Nellie’s bedroom window faced a busy street. One of her favorite pastimes was to sit there and watch the people go by. She always would call out a hearty hello and smile. Even when people didn’t return the courtesy.

6). Save, Save, Save – Grandma was a Depression baby. Nothing went to waste. She wasn’t a hoarder, but found a use for everything. My grandfather abhorred how she would have him pull over because she would notice a salvageable treasure in a neighbor’s garbage, out by the curb. One year she found the coolest red wooden Santa’s sleigh complete with ornate wooden carved reindeer. We dragged it ten blocks to her house.

7). Forgive Your Kids – My dad was always out with some hot girl two decades younger than him. He would tell grandma he was coming by and not show. Or he would cancel on her for a hot date. She would shake her head and say “that’s my Benny!” smile and move on. She told me once – “you can’t control what others do. Only what you do.”

8). Encourage – Grandma was always telling me I could do what I want. I was smart enough. I could attend college. She had owned multiple businesses in the 1950s – A laundromat, a delicatessen. It was rare then for a woman to take the bull by the horns. I think unfortunately, grandpa killed her spirit so she relented a bit and gave up the businesses.

9). Be a Good Friend – Nellie was loyal and loved her friends. And she had many.  She was there to listen, support, engage.

10. Today is Everyday – I believe this was nana’s shot at philosophy. She wasn’t educated, yet she was wise. This life lesson is still the most challenging for me – If I talked about my future or I was frustrated by my situation Nellie would advise me to make the best of it, learn from the experience.

Then give me a hug.

And a BLT.

On occasion, a hug, a sandwich (made with love) and a memory is all you need.

To get by.

To make it through the school of life.

BLT

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-“