It was the first day of spring and the mercury hadn’t hit 50 degrees yet, but the restaurant wasn’t serving indoors and I needed some pancakes. So I sat outside in my winter coat and absorbed whatever warmth I could from the propane heater near my table, congratulating myself on how tough I’ve become and how well I can cope with dining al freezco.
Then it occurred to me that I’m not really that tough at all. For the people who live under the expressway at North Avenue, this is every meal, every night’s sleep, every new dawn. Braving the cold is a temporary discomfort for me. For them, it’s Tuesday.
As I raced to finish my breakfast before the syrup froze, I became increasingly grateful for the daunting experience of eating outside on a cold day; grateful for my usual good fortune in bypassing what is “normal” for too many others. I was cold and uncomfortable, and I ended up being grateful for both, thankful for the lessons provided by my temporary suffering.
Increasingly, I’m finding, gratitude is most meaningful on the downside. As I’ve mentioned in a prior post, It’s easy to be grateful when things are going well, but the deepest connections come from the setbacks.
During the winter, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in a couple of emergency rooms, an operating room and a hospital bed. The treatments extended over more than two months and there’s no question I would have been happy to avoid it. Still, I ended up grateful for the journey.
I was grateful for access to good medical care, of course, and grateful for the commitment medical workers were making for my safety. I was grateful for the fact this was only a temporary setback that would end at some point, rather than a chronic situation that would accompany me through life. And I was very, very grateful for Medicare, which processed more than $100,000 of medical bills, whittled the total down to $2,600, and left me owing just a few hundred bucks.
Finally, I was grateful for some valuable perspective about the minor nuisances that somehow command a huge portion of my attention, nuisances that disappeared from my awareness when something really serious took control. I was grateful for the opportunity to experience the pain and the discomfort that made me more aware and more pleased about the times when everything is fine.
It takes some work and a definite shift of perspectives to become truly grateful for the crap life can throw at you. Gratitude doesn’t make the bad things good or the hard times pleasant, but it does provide some added meaning to life, a bit of a payoff for the negative experiences. I’m just learning how to do it and the learning curve is far from smooth, but I’m finally starting to reap the benefits of my new education.
For which I am very, very grateful.
And while we’re on the subject, I’d be even more grateful is you’d click here to become a subscriber.
We hold these truths to be self-evident:
One of our greatest skills as human beings is the ability to hold both of these views at the same time, often within the same conversation, sometimes within the same sentence. If mental gymnastics was an Olympic event, we’d qualify for Team USA.
In reality, though, each of us is a sample size of one. That makes each of us unique, but it also means none of us is an average Jane. We’re all empowered by and trapped in the circumstances of our lives and our journeys, so we all see things a bit differently.
In my corner of the world, the Coronavirus is real, the state is woefully behind in managing the vaccination rollout, local businesses are suffering along with their landlords, and very few people are arguing about masks. When I’m writing these posts, that state of the world is part of my foundation, even though it might not be a match for a good number of readers.
Many of you live in areas where the economies have stayed open almost nonstop or in places where wearing a mask, or not, is cause for a confrontation. For all of us, our sense of how the pandemic is unfolding will draw more from what we see in our personal lives than from the news. Yes, we’ll read the stories and check out the videos, but the sources we pick and the way we interpret the news will depend heavily on what we, individually, think is the reality.
If we know people who have battled Covid, or lost the war, we’re more likely to take the whole thing very seriously. If we don’t know anyone who has had to deal with the situation, it’s more remote and less threatening. There are tons of exceptions, because each of us brings unique combinations of experience to the conversation, but all of us tend to focus more on our own friends, our own communities, our own challenges.
That’s the crazy part about all our interactions with other people. We think we’re talking to someone else who is like us, but we might be mis-communicating about almost everything. We’re usually aware of it when we’re talking to a doctor or a lawyer or some other specialist whose language is clearly different from our own. The gaps are less obvious when we’re engaged with someone who looks and sounds like us, but brings a whole different set of baggage to the journey.
Sometimes the differences are small enough that they don’t get in the way. Other times, you and your conversation partner are both fluent in English, but you’re speaking a totally different language. We can’t find a way to make our points effectively, because we don’t see the other person’s filters.
Before we can understand someone else, and be understood by them, we need to know a bit about what makes them unique. Otherwise, we’re just talking to ourselves.
As we enter our fourth year of the Dad Writes experiment, we hope you’ll sign up as a subscriber and that you’ll join in the conversation. We know we’ll benefit from your unique perspective.
Now that all of us are living through Groundhog Day—the movie, not the tourist trap—it’s time we update our myths to acknowledge our new reality.
As we all know, we're supposedly in for another six weeks of winter weather if the groundhog sees his shadow on February 2, but the weather will be mild if, like Peter Pan, our pudgy marmot cannot find his shadow. Either way, spring is seven weeks away.
I've always been confused by this rule. There would only be a shadow if the sun is shining, but a sunny day predicts rough weather and a gloomy day is good news? It’s not the goofiest idea in the world, but it’s not terribly logical. On the other hand, we’re taking our weather forecast from a rodent, so who are we to judge?
We’ve all been living our own version of Groundhog Day over the past year, beginning around GDay 2020, when millions of us saw our news feeds and retreated into our dens for six more weeks. And then another six weeks. And another six. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another, until here we are on the eve of GDay 2021, the sequel.
Along the way, we’ve had the opportunity to come up with much more relevant traditions than shadows and weather. Let’s update our mythology to reflect our own lives as burrowing mammals, including:
If I get on the scale and I cannot see my feet, I’m due for six more weeks of pretending to diet.
If I take my kid to school and none of the teachers is there, I’m in for six more weeks of sharing my computer.
If I can’t fit into my slacks and my my feet are too fat for my shoes, I’m headed for another six weeks of working from home.
If I call my barber and he’s still closed, I can expect six more weeks with a mullet.
If I check out the state’s website and our positivity rate is above 8%, I’ll be drinking alone, at home, for another six weeks.
Even if I yell "AGENT!!!" enough times to finally reach a human being at the airline, it will still be six more weeks before I get my refund. Maybe.
If I leave the apartment and I see my shadow—or if I don’t--we’re in for six more weeks of polarized politics across America. And six more weeks after that. And after that…
Now that I think about it, we can learn a lot from our friendly rodents. Maybe the best plan for my sanity is a return to my burrow for the next six weeks, emerging from my lair in time for the equinox. Things can’t possibly get worse in the meantime, could they?
While we’re sleeping our way to springtime, why not sign up to subscribe to our weekly dreamscapes? Just click here and you’ll have a chance to read our posts over and over and over and over and…
Thanks to the pandemic, I’ve finally caught up on all the TV shows that I meant to watch, but somehow missed over the past twenty years. Now that I’m up to date, though, I’m finally in sync with Newton Minow on that whole “vast wasteland” thing.
Way too many shows are predictable claptrap or so-called reality shows that have nothing to do with the real world that most of us inhabit. Bachelors and Bachelorettes and Kardashians and Tiger Kings and frustrated hotties and…really, there’s nothing out there that reflects my reality, or yours.
I’m tired of watching people who are cooler and richer and better looking than I am doing things I’ll never get a chance to do, especially since I have spent my entire life watching people who are cooler and richer and better looking than I am doing things I’ll never get a chance to do. So, no, that’s not the kind of reality I’m talking about. What we need right now is a reality show that connects with us as we are, a show where we can see ourselves not only as contestants, but as winners. Isn’t it time we had something more approachable, something along the lines of:
Endless Zoom: Young parents must navigate 12 hours of Zoom meetings for work while caring for two children, a side job and a custom-bred labrapoodledoodle. Challenges include feeding an infant while delivering a PowerPoint, toilet training a toddler during a sales call, and remembering to mute while interviewing for a better job.
Meme Swap: This will remind everyone of wife swap, but there will be much more violence. Each contestant is required to post horrific, offensive and fraudulent content to social media for 18 hours per day, but the content must be the exact opposite of whatever they post otherwise. Challenges include: Convincing your friends your account wasn’t hacked, setting up a GoFundMe account for your worst nightmare, and flaming your grandmother.
Vaccine Nation: A group of 20-somethings with no pre-existing conditions or relevant jobs must move up in line for a vaccine so they can attend an immune-only gathering of A-Listers. Challenges include relocating to a state with excess vaccine supplies, creating exotic diseases that change their status, and catfishing a senator. (Actually, the last one probably isn’t much of a challenge at all.)
Monotony Island: Senior citizens who have been isolating for the past 10 months must prove they should still have their wits about them. Challenges include: “What day is it?”, “Did I eat lunch yet?”, and “Why am I in the closet?”
Local sponsors: Now that all the restaurants and local businesses have shut down and there’s nobody to support the park district sports teams, contestants will be required to sign up as sponsors for the summer season. Challenges include: stenciling 50 matching team shirts, feeding the kids and their families after the games, and making sure all the kids get exactly the same amount of playing time.
Pot luck dinner: Maybe we should call this lotsa luck dinner, because survival is not guaranteed. Contestants must assemble dinner from whatever items in the kitchen are well past their expiration dates. Challenges include: “Was it this color when we bought it?”, “That mold is penicillin, right?” and “Where’s the Ipecac?” (Actually, we think Top Chef already did this a few seasons ago, so never mind.)
Now these are the reality shows we’d all watch, and for two very good reasons. First, of course, they’d feel much more real to the rest of us and, second, they’d give us a chance to feel superior to the contestants instead of marveling at their wealth/style/looks/skill. And really, don’t we all need to feel superior to something these days?
Of course, the really superior people subscribe to Dad Writes. You can join them and be super-superior just by clicking here.
There’s a very important sticky note over my desk, reminding me to focus on a very, very, important project that I absolutely must, must, must complete…in 2018.
This project is so important to me that I placed the note in a very prominent place, announcing my commitment every time I turn on the computer. I want to be sure I don’t forget how urgent it is that I get around to achieving my incredibly critical goal.
After more than two years of ignoring my reminder, though, it’s time to face facts. That project isn’t really important to me; otherwise, I would have done it by now. The same is true for several other notes around my office that cry out for my focus and my diligence. They’re all on my to-do list, but essentially none of them will ever get done.
I was going to learn to speak Polish, and Mandarin, along with Italian and Spanish. I had plans—and I put them in writing!!!—to read an encyclopedia from cover to cover, to develop the world’s most popular app, to digitize all my photos and change all my passwords from password1 to password123. I made a note, several notes, to pay for my retirement by selling my copies of Spiderman and Mad Magazine for $billions on EBay. And if those didn’t generate enough cash for retirement, I could also organize my dad’s stamp collection, and his coin collection, to raise a few $million in pocket change. Also, just in case anyone wants to make a bid, I am planning to cash in on my Beanie Babies and Pogs very, very soon.
Alas, all is for naught. My to-do lists are overloaded with TO and devoid of DO. They mock me for my failure and my foolish hopes for achievement. Late at night, as I pass my office door, I can hear their muffled snickering.
Clearly, to-do lists are the devil’s spawn, a morass of futile hopes and unrealizable dreams that torment us with endless reminders of our laziness, our incompetence and our mortality. Some of us are addicted to them, which makes us even more pitiable as we’re visited by the ghosts of aspirations past.
In my lucid moments, I realize I’m never going to learn Mandarin or read the encyclopedia or fulfill any of those other pipe dreams that I added to my to-do lists over the years. If I was really all that interested, I would have done it. If I haven’t done it, it wasn’t really that important to me in the first place.
That explains why I have become truly adept at Words with Friends, Free Cell, shouting the wrong answers at the screen during Jeopardy, and arguing with the thousands of total strangers that Facebook assures me are really my friends. It turns out these are my true priorities in life, and I prove it by spending so much of my time with them.
Now that I think about it, to-do lists are also one of my highest priorities in life. If we’re going to grade my commitments according to hours of effort, these exercises in futility would certainly rank in the top five. In fact, according to Malcolm Gladwell, I qualify as a true expert.
Wait. That changes everything. Suddenly, I realize that I should never implement any of the plans on any of my to-do lists. If I complete the projects, I destroy the to-do basis of my lists, and no true artist (other than Banksy) would intentionally destroy his masterpiece.
I am not a failure at implementing my plans. No, not at all. I am a creative genius who paints beautiful portraits of admirable intentions. I have no need to actually do anything on my lists, because creating the list is the entire achievement.
In fact, these to-do lists of mine are so incredibly valuable, I could probably make my fortune selling them at Sotheby’s. I must remember to add this to my next to-do list, if only for the irony.
To-do lists are where dreams go to die, but that needn’t be the case for your hopes of snagging a subscription to Dad Writes. Just click here to subscribe now and please, please, please don’t add it to your to-do list.
What would you think if I told you I was an internationally recognized philanthropist? Or, maybe, an award-winning author? What if I described myself as a private investor or a business mentor?
And what would you think if I simply said I’m retired and I left it at that?
It’s pretty easy to put people into boxes, reacting to the first descriptors used to define their place in the world. Snap judgments are hard-wired into our survival instincts, which is a great benefit when a lion walks into the kitchen, but not quite as valuable when we’re trading factoids at a cocktail party. (Cocktail parties! Remember those? Sigh.)
Most of us add new descriptions to our social resume as we progress through life, engage with family, navigate a career and become whoever it is we plan to be when we grow up. All these new identities and new milestones provide depth and texture to us, to our personalities, and to our social capital. They make us more interesting and more complete, if we take the time to learn anything on our journeys.
And then, just as we become our most multifaceted and fully developed selves, we give up. We start talking about ourselves in the past tense, as if we’re drafting our obituaries.
I’m a former accountant.
I used to be a sales rep.
I was once a teacher.
I find it just a bit depressing. Everyone has an interesting story or two about their well-earned scars, and everyone is doing something today, yesterday, tomorrow, that forms the nucleus of a new adventure. Despite that rich tapestry, so many people I meet will announce that they’ve given up on being interesting, that all they have to offer of relevance is a job they held. Once. A long time ago.
It’s as if there’s nothing we have to offer the world other than our labor and some form of industry expertise. We are our jobs and, when we leave our jobs, we are nothing. Our only claim to relevance is an expired key card from the law firm and, maybe, a part-time gig as a “consultant.”
Perhaps it’s my own fault. I still ask people what they do and that generates a default response about how they make, or made, money. I need to get more creative about my introductory conversations. Maybe things will get more interesting if I ask…
What was your favorite trip ever?
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen face to face?
What’s the strangest answer you’ve ever received when you asked someone what they do for a living?
One of the positives with questions like these is that I’m unlikely to hear about work. That’s good, because I really don’t want to know about their jobs, or their former jobs, or why they think of themselves as has-beens. “What do you do?” turns out to be a conversation stopper, not a starter, especially when it turns into what someone doesn’t do anymore.
Asking people what they do is pretty pointless and likely to make them feel bad about their former glory. If I want better answers, I had better come up with some better questions.
The big question we’re all asking at Dad Writes is whether you’ll become a subscriber by clicking here for our weekly insights. So, whaddaya say?
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.