I took my morning run today at 5:30. I was tired. It was cold. On this particular morning, I thought true thoughts.
I thought of my two legs — I have two legs. I thought of my children — I have children. I thought of their health — they have health. I thought of my wife — one of the most decent people I’ve ever known. I thought of my warm home —I have a warm home. I thought of my incredible friends — I have incredible friends.
I thought of my mother and father and three sisters — I have a mother and father and three sisters. I thought of my three brothers in law — I have three brothers in law. All good men.
I thought of my faith — I’m grateful for my faith. I thought of my car — I have a car. The A/C works. The brakes work. So does the radio and the and the generator and the battery and the alternator and the rear window defroster. It gets great gas mileage.
I thought of my ten fingers and ten toes — I have ten fingers and ten toes. I looked down and thought of my New Balance 993′s—I have New Balance 993′s. Two pairs, in fact, one gray, one black.
I thought of my books — I cherish my books. I thought of my trials — trials turn to gold. I thought of my freedom — I am nobody’s slave. I thought of those living under oppression — I am not oppressed. I thought of my education — I am grateful for opportunities to learn and grow.
As long as I have breath, I will always learn and grow.
I panted in the cold air as I ascended a daunting hill. There are many hills in this life. I thought of my will and my strength and my faith to get over hills.
The sun broke through these dark clouds and I saw radiant beams of sun. Then I thought of my eyesight — I can see.
I had no pain in my body. No pain in my body. I had no pain in my body.
I thought of my family again — they are healthy and funny and grounded and happy. I thought about later posting a picture we took a while ago.
Our lungs work. Our hearts work. Our minds work.
I am loved. I am accepted. I contribute to the wellbeing of others. My friends mean the world to me. And they care for me. My family means the world to me. And they care for me.
Life is full of good things and difficult things. But every time we focus on the good things, we become grateful.
It’s kind of like that thing Lincon said, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
(this post was adapted from a previous post that you can see here)
I went to my daughter’s old high school last night for a piano recital. Orange County School of the Arts. Actually, my in-laws donated their pristine Steinway to their piano conservatory and they had a special ceremony. Bree was in the piano conservatory so being back there was weird.
Bree — from 7th through 12th grades. Can’t tell you how many of those recitals I went to in those 6 glorious years. So being there last night was like I said, weird.
I cried a bit during the performances but nobody saw it. I was just sitting there thinking about how Bree’s about to graduate from college in five weeks. I thought about all those recitals and Edison and Elliot being there. Poof. Life has moved on.
Poof. Life has moved on.
I remembered when she played Prokofiev. I think I still have that video somewhere on YouTube and if I do I’m going to post it below.
That piece. My God.
Those long concerts. Two young boys. I think Bree was a sophomore in that video. So she was 15. Edison would have been 12. Elliot 9. We were strict; no electronics. How did we get those two boys to sit there and listen to Chopin and List and Rachmaninov for two hours over and over and again and again?
Anyway, I was teary last night. And it’s always hard to disguise crying in public. Even if you’re watching a movie and it’s dark. Once you need to wipe a tear away and your hand makes it’s move toward your face, it feels like everyone is going to see you then realize what’s happening.
I wonder why crying is a social taboo. Laughing isn’t but crying is.
A few weeks ago after a yoga class, a lady started crying. At the end of each class, everyone lies in savasana. And people can leave when they want, you have to leave quietly.
Well, I’m laying there because I always lay/meditate for at least 10 minutes after class. And about two minutes in, I heard this soft sobbing. You could tell she was trying to hold it in. But man, it was really deep. Something bad had happened. Anyone could tell she was grieving. It went on and on.
When I finally got up the lady was on her knees gathering herself. She was around 30 or 40. I had the feeling of wanting to go up to her and say, “Are you okay?” — but that would have been weird.
If she had been laughing, people would have been annoyed or thought she was a freak. But she was sobbing and you just felt sorry for her.
Anyway, before the piano recital, there was this special pre-event where they presented a plaque to Gina’s parents over champagne and two of the students played a special duet on the donated Steinway. You don’t hear many piano duets because few composers wrote duets.
I posted it in my Instagram story.
Memories are weird things. I’m there happy and sad, simultaneously, thinking of that other life when the kids were younger.
I remember C.S. Lewis talking about memories. How they are not things in the past. They, by definition, are in the present. So those days of piano recitals and younger children are not gone, they are still present, in my memories. I like like Lewis’s perspective, but I’m still sad the kids are older.
I’m listening to Lemonade by Beyoncé. I don’t know why she named the album Lemonade.
It always takes a while to get used to a new album. In the world of black music that I’ve started listening to in the past few years, I prefer Chance and Kayne. But still going to give this one a chance because I’ve only listened to it twice. There’s this song called All Night that I’m kind of liking.
I prefer male vocalists over female vocalists. Is that okay to say? Is it sexist?
What would it be like to be famous like Beyoncé? Ever wonder about stuff like that?
I wonder if these celebs are happier. I’ve thought about happiness a lot lately.
In a previous life, I worked closely with these Christian leaders named John and Eleanor Mumford. They had two sons. James and Marcus. Super cool family. Spent lots of time with them when we lived in London. Anyway, Marcus was a pre-teen when we lived there.
Right now he’s touring with U2 leading a band called Mumford and Sons.
Weird. He became a celeb. I wonder if Marcus is happy. I haven’t talked to him in years. But he strikes me as a generally happy kind of guy. He says f**k a lot now. But he can afford to. I often wonder what his parents, being leaders in the church, think of that.
I never know how transparent I should be. On one hand, I think people today are just way too fake, on the other, nobody wants to hear about all your problems.
People say they like Donald Trump because he speaks his mind. But he doesn’t. If he did he’d be swearing all the time in public. But he doesn’t do that because he’s political no matter how nonpolitical he tries to say he is.
Where’s the balance in being vulnerable?
John Mellancamp: I know there’s a balance, I see it when I swing past.
When I freewrite from public places, like now, I type I look at all the people and then I wonder about them. Their joys and their problems. You could never tell by expressions what’s really going on.
I’ve been sitting here for around 30 minutes. Swear this lady has read every word of the paper. I just keep watching her. She doesn’t get distracted for even a second. It’s like she’s starved. She’s devouring the whole Los Angeles Times before my eyes.
I think electronics might be making people stupider. Especially kids and teens. Adults too but especially kids and teens.
Back to music. I still can’t believe that Michael Jackson and Witney Houston and Prince and David Bowie and George Michaels and Robin Williams are dead. I only put Robin Williams in there because I can’t stand to think of doing without another role as those he played in Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society and Patch Adams.
He seemed to have a certain depth to his acting when he played in serious roles.
But they are not gone. The movies are still here. So are all those songs. And all those memories.
A note on “Freewriting.”
Every Friday, I set my timer on my iPhone for 15 or 20 minutes. Then I start writing. I don’t stop. I write whatever pops into my mind. Some people call it stream of consciousness. After 15 minutes, I go back and quickly correct all the blatant typos and make a few edits. Then I publish it on Paulosophia.
I started freewriting in the early 1990’s because I had read this short article called “Freewriting.” I was a horrible writer back then, with the most severe writers’ block. The article said you have to write WITHOUT STOPPING. For a fixed period of time. Even if you have to write the same word over and over again. Over time, you get better, and more confident.
Writing becomes as easy as talking.
I can’t count how many freewriting exercises I’ve done over the years. Thousands for sure. I still do them almost daily.
I was so distraught about the Syrian refugee crisis and the chemical weapon bombing that I wrote it HERE on Thursday morning.
Then threw a tent and a sleeping bag in the car and decided to drive to the desert to be alone and pray.
Decided to not bring food. Food is a hassle. You have to get a stove and pans AND shop and I didn’t want to lug a bung of stuff out of the car, get an ice chest, etc.
I just brought a thing of Arrowhead water and a bottle of wine.
The desert, water, wine. Sounded sufficient.
And, anyway, millions of people go without eating for a few days. And we all whine if we miss one meal and say we’re “starving.” (Gina did make me bring some Trader Joe’s trail mix. It had M&M’s in there. Not real M&M’s but chocolates that looked like them.)
Sometimes when I’m reflective, I take along my Nikon camera. Like writing, but in a different way, I find photography soothing.
I shot this yesterday. There were lots of them scattered around. I don’t know their proper name. It would be more impressive if I googled “Wildflowers Joshua Tree” and then wrote the proper name down and you might be impressed but I’m freewriting and don’t have the time to try and be impressive.
Something about how they stand tall and proud amidst lots of rugged and dry foliage. And something about the color purple, with those little violet blossoms.
After I took this shot I went back to my camping spot because I was thirsty.
I sat for a few minutes.
Stared at the sky. Hazy but clear.
I kept thinking of checking my iPhone but no service. Tried to read. Threw some rocks.
Listened to the German family that were camped in the next spot. Camping spaces weren’t too close so couldn’t really see them well. Kids seemed between 7 and 10. Cute accents.
I remembered my kids being here with me.
Went into the tent to try and take a nap. Couldn’t sleep.
Restless. Iphone detox I think.
I took my beach chair and climbed to the top of one of the thousands of towering boulders. This view is from right above my tent.
I read from my Kindle even though reading from a paper book would have felt far more appropriate, given the natural surroundings. But I didn’t want to lug my paper books up this steep rock.
I tried to read but couldn’t because that view kept me distracted.
I wonder how many miles it is from here to that far mountain range? Twenty, 50, 200? I have no idea.
I then realized that it was Friday. And that I had made a commitment to Friday Freewriting. No matter what — every single Friday.
But I had no computer.
I started to feel anxious — I came out here to pray and unwind and here I am reading on my slick Kindle PaperWhite stressing about how I have a deadline.
Do you ever give yourself time to relax, then stress the whole time about all the stuff you suddenly must do?
So I climbed back down the rock. Grabbed my Nikon again.
I walked for over an hour and took dozens of photos.
And I prayed that justice would be done in Syria. I prayed that children and mothers and fathers would find hope and healing and comfort.
I knew nothing about the air strikes yesterday because no cell reception.
I am not a pacifist. I believe in just war. I believe going to war with Germany was justified. We saved the lives of millions by entering WWII and taking out those Nazi bastards.
I prayed there would be a way we could end this senseless carnage in Syria. I don’t know if my prayers brought about the destruction of those runways. Maybe. Maybe not.
I found this flower bush. In the hours I walked around, I saw none other like it.
The afternoon pressed on and on. And walked on and on.
I was bored, restless, at peace, lonely, satisfied, hungry — all mixed together.
I wanted to go home.
I wanted to stay for a week.
This is one of my favorite pictures. When I look at those rock formations I realize just how little I know about geology.
Especially when I look at the mushroom shaped one on the left.
Then I had a thought to do something entirely strange. And I’m surprised I’m going to admit it here. But I decided that I would be honest in this blog.
I took all my clothes off.
Because I started to feel — boy this sounds granola — one with nature. The longer I walked, the longer I crawled on my stomach trying to get the perfect shot of these wildflowers, the anxiety started to strip away.
The smells of the earth and the new spring growth.
And even my body odor.
I realized I hadn’t had a shower in over two days.
I could feel the dust against my legs and in my hair.
But I didn’t care.
I realized I was wearing the exact same shoes and shorts and v-neck and jacket I had worn when I departed Costa Mesa on Thursday morning.
But I didn’t care.
In this moment and in the remoteness of this place, I longed to just strip myself of not just all those intrusive thoughts and worries but also, everything else.
I was miles away from anyone else.
I searched around for a rock formation that could have a southern facing barrier (since all the campers are to the north).
“Just in case.”
So here it goes.
Right in between that cluster of boulders, all far taller than me, I paced, sat, meditated, prayed and struck yoga postures.
In the nude.
Don’t know for how long.
At least 15 minutes, I’d guess.
As weird as this sounds…
It felt amazing and I felt close to God or nature or whatever.
It just felt free.
(When I decided to get dressed, man I did it quickly for some reason, and if you could only see my eyes darting in every possible direction for possible onlookers you’d be on the ground howling.)
If nakedness is natural why is it so unnatural?
The sun was starting to set.
I returned to camp. I wanted a picture of me and my austere site. So I put my camera on a rock and used the timer because I didn’t want to bother the German family.
When the sun set, I took one more short walk. This Joshua Tree says it all to me. I don’t know why.
It had a certain mood and that mood matched mine.
I brought a bottle of Pinot Noir. Opened that.
Wondered what I would write about for Friday Freewriting, so scribbled some notes to myself in the back of one of my paper books.
I like being alone.
I’m too sensitive to all the sounds I hear people from other campgrounds.
I hear the sounds of lots of younger families. Younger children. The joys and giggles and how it’s all new and adventurous and how teenagers prefer being with friends versus camping with their dad.
Then I spent about an hour thinking my three children.
The memories in this same spot.
Thought of one of those photos we took almost exactly 10 years earlier to the day.
Life has changed since then.
Then I thought about the Syrian children again.
Then the joys and burden of loving your own children.
We all think we have problems.
I crawled into my tent.
I was hungry, but out of Trader Joe’s trail mix.
Hungry, yet satisfied, I fell asleep to the giggle of German children.
Woke. Packed. Driving out. Had to take just one more.
A note on “Freewriting.”
Every Friday, I set my timer on my iPhone for 15 minutes. Then I start writing. I don’t stop. I write whatever pops into my mind. After 15 minutes, I go back and quickly correct all the blatant typos. Then I publish it on Paulosophia.
I started “freewriting” in the early 1990’s because I had read this short article called “Freewriting.” I was a horrible writer back then, with the most severe writers’ block. The article said you have to write WITHOUT STOPPING. For a fixed period of time. Even if you have to write the same word over and over again. Over time, you get better, and more confident.
Writing becomes as easy as talking.
I can’t count how many freewriting exercises I’ve done over the years. Thousands for sure. I still do them almost daily. My kids know them well. I hope you will, too.
I woke this morning to a warm house. To my children safe in their warm beds with their down blankets.
Elliot has his new surfboard he got for Christmas. It leans against his bedroom wall.
Edison is back from college, where he lives in a dorm overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Lots of his friends flew back from back east. They go out to eat. Go to the beach. Catch up on life as college freshman.
Bree lives in a classy apartment in Westwood. Finishing her final year of college, with three other smart young ladies. They are all going off to grad school.
The worries I have for my children are not external worries — I have no fears of what will be done to them. My worries are more centered around the worries of most parents of teenagers — will they make the right choices? Or, what might they do to themselves?
My children are safe.
Other children are not.
Thoughts of the other children hunt me down since the travel ban. Invade my dreams at night.
I don’t know why.
It might be because of my screensaver. A sunset would feel nicer. Because I’m an iPhone junkie. I see my lock screen hundreds of times a day.
The look in this father’s eyes.
I’ve written about the Syrian refugee crisis before because I can’t not write about that.
I can’t not write about them.
When I see Elliot and Edison and Bree and other children here in the land of the free, I hear the cries of the children of Syria.
Because my people have slammed the door on them.
Christians, Republicans — the majority of them (76% according to Pew Research) support the new ban to keep these innocent victims out of this Christian nation.
This so-called, Christian nation.
What would make a nation such that people would refer to it as a “Christian Nation?”
What people believe? What they profess? What worship set is being played on Sunday?
Or, what the Christian nation does?
The worst humanitarian crisis since WWII. Millions upon millions of people displaced, living in the most extreme poverty.
Mostly women and children and elderly and the sick.
Most suffering from acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From all the bombs.
From the executions of millions of their fathers and brothers and uncles and cousins.
The U.S. will continue to accept refugees from other countries.
But not these children from Syria, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Yemen Somalia.
What does it mean to be a Christian when the majority of Christians, even pastors, stay silent in the face of this crisis of humanity?
What will Jesus say to those who aided in their misery and death out of loyalty to a political party?
Or, out of fear of angering those who give the most money on Sunday mornings?
I know this sounds harsh. But if we are going to speak out against the evils of abortion and homosexuality, we need to speak against keeping our doors shut when the most vulnerable are in need of help. That’s what Jesus was all about.
I will now go pick up Elliot from school in my white Toyota Prius.
He will come home and then deliberate over what to eat.
Maybe take a nap.
Do some homework.
I have other worries. Petty little problems. Need to get my car smogged. There’s a recall, so I have to take it to the dealer. I got a fix-it ticket because the registration is expired. Need to get it fixed before I get a second fix-it ticket.
Problem if I don’t get the grant I applied for.
Problem being 51. Need to have some test on my colon. Worried it will hurt.
Petty little problems.
I will think up ways to get Christians to call congress, call their pastors, stand on their roofs and do something to answer the cries of all those children.
Maybe my screensaver will keep my eye on their suffering, and away from my own petty little problems.
We’re all getting older. But, at 51, I’m getting older. Like soon-I’ll-qualify-for-senior-discounts older. Like the-skin-on-my-neck-is-getting-wrinkly-and-starting-to-droop-older.
And as I’ve gotten older, especially over the past 5 years or so, I’ve noticed something. As people get older, they get more narrow. More afraid. Even more paranoid.
You see it especially with the people who are like 70 and above. They start hunkering down. Driving slower. Locking their doors.
Safety replaces adventure.
And when people get older they stop taking risks. A few years ago, a friend and I were talking about our aging parents. He said, “They just get into ‘preservation mode.'”
I notice preservation mode in my parents. In their friends. In the lives of most of the people of their generation.
But here’s the thing — older folks were not always in preservation mode. They were once the radicals, the activists, the idealists. Many of them protested the war in Vietnam. Many of them backpacked across Europe and took huge financial risks and drove motorcycles.
But today those former radicals and activists and idealists aren’t protesting anything. Correction. They are protesting — they are protesting against change. They are protesting against progress. They are protesting against freedom of speech. And they are protesting against all the possible risks associated with this thing they all once knew called, adventure.
If they are grandparents, they warn their children about all the risks in our very dangerous world here in the suburbs of The United States Of America.
And they are afraid, many of them, to travel.
They hoard their money as if they’ll take it with them to the grave.
They drive slow in big safe cars in the slow lane.
They stay in the house and watch whatever news channel that will peddle the most alarming news about this dangerous world. The random kidnapping. The outlier terrorist attack. And all this news confirms for them just how dangerous the world is, so they stay inside.
Because they live to not die.
I’m not criticizing the older generation. I’ll be there too soon. And I’m sure there’s an evolutionary factor behind their safety-first proclivities.
But ultimately I’m worried that the radical Paul, the activist Paul, the idealist Paul, will soon slowly be diluted into preservation mode Paul.
And that thought — the thought of living to not die? Ironically, that’s whatscares me.
Because I want to use my voice and actions to help create a better world. A more peaceful and knowledgeable and vibrant world. I want to protest against injustice. I want to help bring dignity and respect to millions of Muslims that have earned it. And be with them.
Ultimately, the thought of living in fear and hunkering down into my chamber of safety isn’t going to change anything.