Saturday, June 29, 2013

Speak Your Truth - Even When Nobody Listens

I just saw the most amazing film called Searching for Sugar Man.

It's an unbelievable true story about a guy named Sixto Rodriguez who recorded a few albums in the late 1960's and early 1970's that were a total flop - at least here in the US.

But unbeknownst to him some bootleg copies somehow made it into South Africa during the heart of the oppressive Apartheid period, where his music became not only popular, but absolutely iconic.

But get this... somewhere between the censorship of a closed Apartheid society and the corruption of the music industry, word of his fame (not to mention the monetary rewards that should have gone with it) never made it back to Rodriguez.

He had NO IDEA that people halfway across the world were listening to his music, and because of some strange rumor, everybody in South Africa thought that he was dead.

Anyhow, this is the amazing story of how these guys in South Africa set out to find out what happened to him, and ended up discovering the man himself... alive and well, and working as a manual laborer in Detroit!

So here he is some thirty years after the albums were released. His music career is all but forgotten, and these guys come along, pull him out of obscurity and take him to South Africa where he is hailed as a hero.

I'm struggling to find an adequate word to describe this story... "uplifting" doesn't seem to do it justice.

I mean here's this guy who buy all societal measures would have been called a failure. Yet half way across the world he's an icon, and a hero, and his music helped to spark a movement that overturned one of the most oppressive regimes in history.

What a story!

We live in this crazy world where everybody is so focused on "success" and "rewards" and "recognition" and "popularity" - but it's like we've forgotten that those things aren't really the goal at all, they're simply side effects that come from living a meaningful life... from putting yourself out there, being a person of integrity and speaking your truth to the world.

Or at least that's how it ought to be in my humble opinion. All too often these days it seems like people seek fame and stardom simply for the sake of fame and stardom. I can never figure out what the fascination is with these people who are famous simply for being famous.

Then when we do engage genuinely, and the recognition, or money or popularity doesn't come immediately, we tend to throw up our hands in frustration and give up. So here's the perfect story of why you shouldn't give up, and why you should keep making your proverbial music - even if you're not "successful" at all.

We just don't know how our actions are gonna affect other people in the big picture sense. Maybe our message just hasn't found the right audience, or the right time, or the right place, or the right whatever - but that doesn't mean we should stop delivering it. Because somewhere, sometime, somehow it could fall on fertile soil, and we may never even know it.

I keep thinking of the last verse of the Jackson Browne song For a Dancer.

Into a dancer you have grown
From a seed somebody else has thrown
Go on ahead and throw some seeds of your own
And somewhere between the time you arrive
And the time you go 
May lie a reason you were alive 
But you'll never know

Go forth peoples! Speak your truth to the world, and never EVER let anybody convince you that what you have to offer isn't good enough, or important enough, or unique enough, or whatever enough to matter. Somehow, somewhere, sometime your voice will find its way to the people who need to hear it.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Perfect Metaphor for Modern Society

I stumbled upon this today and just had to share it.

Before we go any further, take a minute to take this little test... it's easy - there are three people wearing black shirts and three wearing white shirts. Each group has their own basketball which they are passing back and forth among themselves. The object is to count how many times the people wearing the white shirts pass the basketball. Got it? OK... now try it yourself

Did you get it? Seriously, if you didn't actually take the test go take it before you read any further or else the rest of this post won't make any sense at all.

Isn't that amazing? I had to go back and watch the thing over again just to prove to myself that it actually happened!

Anyhow, it struck me that this is exactly how our entire society operates. We live in a world with any number of proverbial gorillas marching through our living rooms: climate change, overpopulation, excessive corporate power just to name a few, but we're so busy counting our money, and checking FaceBook, and flitting about from one distraction to another that we never even see them.

It all makes me wonder what else we're missing!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What Would You Save?

Wildfire season has arrived in Colorado.

June tends to be our worst month in terms of fires. We generally get a fair amount of moisture in May, and then the North American monsoon usually arrives by mid-July bringing frequent afternoon rainstorms. But June tends to be bone dry and hot, hot, hot! I fear this year is no exception.

I could write a good long rant about wildfires, and how totally insane it is that people keep building more and more houses in the "wilderness." Of course, once the woods are full of people, they're no longer "wild" and the natural fires that would normally clear out the dead wood and underbrush are not allowed to burn... so the forests build up a HUGE amount of fuel. Add to that the drought and the global warming-induced pine beetle infestation and you pretty much have a recipe for disaster.

So it's not really surprising to me that each year we keep hitting new milestones for Colorado's "most destructive fire in history." Last year it was the Waldo Canyon Fire which burned on the northwest edge of Colorado Springs destroying 346 homes. This year, it's been the Black Forest Fire on the northeast side of Colorado Springs, which has, to date destroyed 473 homes.

CatMan grew up in the springs, so we have a lot of friends down there, and have been anxiously monitoring the fire maps. We have some friends who have a home in Black Forest, and it looks like they're gonna squeak through this one by the skin of their teeth. Homes burned to the ground about 1000 yards on three sides of them, but fortunately their home was in a little pocket that the fire missed.

Anyhow, when you watch hour after hour of fire coverage on television, it makes you really think about stuff. And I mean that literally - you think about all the "stuff" that people own.

So far, this fire has claimed two lives... the remains were found in what was left of the garage where the couple had been packing up their belongings for several hours. Somehow, I just can't get that out of my mind. They had several hours to evacuate, but somehow they pushed it just a little bit too far and the fire overcame them.

A home destroyed in the Black Forest Fire
It just makes me so sad... I can't help but think that they were victims not only of the fire, but also victims of all the stuff they were trying to save.

Now, I'm not exactly what you might call a minimalist. I think I own a lot less stuff than your average American, but nobody is gonna mistake my house for an Amish residence.

But it all makes me think, if I had only a few minutes to pack the car and get out, what would I save?

Of course, the first thing would be to get the cats to safety. After that, I'm not really sure. I suppose it might depend on how much time I had. I'd probably grab necessary stuff first like medication, cash, and critical documents.

Beyond that, it would be nice to save my computer just for convenience sake - though I am backed up to the cloud. After that I'd probably grab the photo albums and a few things like a change or 2 of clothing and maybe the cat beds so they'd be less frightened in an unfamiliar place.

But I'd be hard pressed to think of any thing that would be worth risking my life for.

Of course, that's all pretty easy to say when you're not faced with the situation - but I certainly hope that I'd err on the side of safety.

So how about you? What would you do if you had only an hour to pack up and evacuate?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

T Minus 5 and Counting!

I've been working on paying off my mortgage for some time now. I wish I'd started sooner because I would have made more progress with less work, but alas... better late than never!

For anyone who doesn't know this about mortgages, when you first start to pay it off, the vast majority of your payment goes toward interest, and only a tiny percentage goes toward principal reduction.

But with each payment that you make, the percentages shift ever so slightly so you're paying off more and more principal as you go.

To make it even more complicated, the number of payments you have left is calculated by the amount of remaining principal, so if you make extra principal payments at the beginning of a mortgage, you can really take a huge bite out of the length of the loan with very small extra principal payments.

I'm not sure I did a great job of explaining that, but suffice it to say that I could have gotten here quicker if I'd  started sooner. But I guess that's the case with all things.

Anyhow, that's my circuitous introduction to my announcement that I only have 5 payments left to make on my mortgage. Woo Hoo!

Of course, my mortgage was never that big to begin with. When I bought my house, I spent over a year looking. I didn't have much money (I was only making about $14k/year at the time) which meant that qualifying for a loan was gonna be a challenge.

Fortunately, there were two wonderful women taking lessons at the music school where I worked who helped me out. One was a realtor and the other a loan broker, so with their help, and the gift of a down payment from my parents I ended up settling in a working class neighborhood on the west side of Denver.

Anyhow, I bought my house in 1995 for $63K and with the big down payment my loan was only $50K to begin with. Still, it was a big deal when I first moved in. I went from paying $285/month rent - which included utilities, to around $650/month all told (principal, interest, insurance, taxes & utilities.)

Interest rates were 9% back then - my how times have changed! I refinanced once to 6.25%, and thought about trying to refinance again when the rates really fell, but by that point the loan was so small that nobody would touch it.

So at that point I got really aggressive about paying it off by making extra principal payments each month as well as cashing in a few CDs to make some big lump sum principal payments. I figured there was no point keeping my money in CDs that were earning less than one percent interest when it could go toward paying off a 6.25% interest loan!

My parents, who hate debt even more than I do, got into the act, and for the past few years they've given me money to help pay it down further in lieu of Christmas and birthday presents.

I'll still have to pay taxes, insurance and utilities, but all told I'll be saving about $450/month.

I'm not sure what I'll do with the extra cash... probably just replenish my savings accounts for the moment. But it sure feels nice to know that very soon I'll have one less albatross hanging around my neck!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Pernicious Power of Projection

I had a crappy day today. Well, it started out crappy anyhow.

My sweet kitty Sputnik has been having a bit more trouble the past week or so. For those of you not following the saga of Sputnik VonWiskars, Sputty is my precious 15 year old tuxedo cat who was diagnosed with a bladder tumor back in December.

He's been doing remarkably well all things considered, but the past week or so he's been having more urinary "issues."

I had avoided calling the vet because I was afraid and worried that it all meant that the end was near.

I finally called on Friday, but the vet was out of the office. The last time we spoke we had discussed the possibility of trying another round of prednisone since he seemed to respond well when we gave him a short course back in December.

Anyhow, I left a message saying that I thought we should go ahead and try that, not expecting it to be returned until today. So today finally rolled around and I waited and waited and waited.

Around 4pm I finally called and talked to the vet tech who said she'd try to catch him between appointments and see if he would just OK the meds so I could come pick them up. But still no call.

I was sure this meant that the vet had decided that Sputty was beyond hope and that he was gonna pressure me to have him put to sleep. The last time we talked the vet was encouraging another round of testing, and I was sure he was looking for justification to tell me that I had to euthanize Sputty.

Finally around 7 the vet called and we talked it all over.

Turned out the vet wasn't thinking anything remotely like that. Apparently the fact that Sputty has a mass in his bladder makes him much more susceptible to bacterial infections, so he wanted to discuss the possibility of trying another round of antibiotics.

He also mentioned further tests again, but this time he clarified that the point would be to decide if maybe we wanted to reconsider the option of surgery since it obviously isn't the fast growing cancer that he originally thought it was.

We decided to try prednisone again, and if that doesn't help then we'll try antibiotics, and if he's still having a really rough time then we'll consider further tests and maybe revisit the idea of surgery. Not a word about euthanasia.

When I hung up the phone I felt about seven million times better. But I also can't help but feel like I'm some sort of an idiot. Why am I so quick to jump to the worst possible conclusion?

And why am I always convinced that somebody is gonna make me do something that I don't want to?

On closer inspection, I guess I know why. Ever since Sputnik got sick my parents have been pressuring me to have him put to sleep. In their opinion he's basically outlived his usefulness now that he's become "inconvenient" so I should just euthanize him and be done with it.

Needless to say, I've been avoiding my parents more than usual during the past six months because I don't want to subject myself to their crazy and unwelcome opinions. But I guess that sort of stuff has a way of burrowing itself into your inner psyche in a very pernicious manner.

I mean clearly, I had just projected all of my parents' crazy stuff onto my vet, which wasn't at ALL where my vet was coming from.

It all just makes me wonder what other ways I do this sort of thing. There are plenty of times that I'm just sure that "everybody" holds xyz opinion, or judgment or whatever, when none of it is true.

One would think that I would have learned this lesson by now, but apparently not.

I can't help but think that so many of our societal ills are caused by this pernicious power of projection. Wouldn't it be so much better if we let people be who they are instead of assuming we already know?

Just my thought for the day...