Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Single, Critically Important Step to Loving Reading

My eldest younger brother, Carlos, speaks brilliant English.  When he was ~5 years old, his father, Pablo, took a teaching job in Texas, and the family spent the better part of a year there, at which time, Carlos learned the language.  

One of the main drivers for finding an au pair when they returned to Spain was to continue exposing the boys to English.
(Little did Pablo and Vanesa know that my English is quite poor, and consists mostly of catchphrases: “Don’t do me,” “Come onnnnn,” “Booty, booty,” but I digress.)

Most of our -- the three brothers -- time together is one hilarious adventure after another.  Ok, ok. We go to the park, rollerblade, ride bikes, talk about dinosaurs and superpowers, have foot races, and more often than we should, punch each other.  (Dani and Carlos -- not me.)  Maybe it is not so grandiose as to be described as “adventures,” but we party.  

Each evening, Carlos and I settle down to do some reading in English, and up until two weeks ago, it was a real drag for him.  

I hated it because I love reading.  I mean, I looooooove reading.  It is just ahead of cooking something delicious, and just behind making music and shooting tequila.  I have a forever growing list of books that I cannot read fast enough.

Why do I love reading?  Because I know how to do it!


“What?  You are a 28-year old, grown ass man… you better know how to read.”

That's fair.   

However, while extracting meaning from letters placed together into words and sentences is far more complex, so many people slip up on the far simpler, but equally important task, of reading material that will captivate them. 


Let’s continue.

For the last ~5 months, reading in English each night has been a chore for Carlos - an activity to avoid through endless hand washing and “can I get some water” requests.  But it was not until two weeks ago that I realized that it was actually my fault -- completely my fault!  I was not sharing the real gems of children’s fiction with him, and I was not paying enough attention to his interests.   

Two weeks ago, I showed Carlos “The Giving Tree.”  He loved it, and could not help but try and guess what the tree would bestow upon the boy next.  After finishing a series of other poems by Shel Silverstein - “The Loser,” “My Beard,” “Scale” -- Carlos confirmed that he liked reading. 

I was jaaaaaaaacked.

This last week, Dani joined the ranks while we dove into the story of “Jumanji.”  When the snake arrived in the middle of the game, Dani literally shivered in my arms.  It was awesome.

When’s the last time you read the “Cat in the Hat?”  It’s a fuckin’, hilaaaaarious party.  What about “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs,” or one of Ms Frizzle's adventures on “The Magic School Bus?”

We are now making our way through the Roald Dahl classic, “the Big Friendly Giant.”

As I said, I love to read.  It is petty of me, but it bothers me when people tell me they do not like to read.  And it is because I do not believe it -- it is only a matter of content.

If you are in the important business of introducing literature to others, avoid my mistake and complete the "Single, Critically Important Step to Loving Reading." 

Single, Critically Important Step
Seek out fantastic content within the interests of your reader.

Having spent countless days discussing super powers with Carlos, how could I have waited this long to show him “The Five Chinese Brothers?”  Carlos and I continue to debate which super power is the coolest -- he thinks it is the brother who cannot be burned, but he is wrong.  It is the brother who cannot be beheaded. 

Additionally, I should note that the “Single, Critically Important Step to Loving Reading” is universal. With a quick internet search you can find hundreds of pieces that align with your own interests, complete with genuine, qualified reviews from readers just like you.

Stories are one of the oldest, and most brilliant forms created to share ideas -- to educate, to entertain, or otherwise.  Being lost in a book that you cannot put down is one of the great treasures of the human experience. 

Final Note:
I do not remember who gave this piece of advice to me, but it is completely worthwhile.  

Do not feel obligated to finish reading content that is not pulling you (or your child) 
forward with every single word on the page.

There is too much brilliant content out there that can leave you spellbound.  You should spend your time entranced in those pages.

$.50 Philosophy

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Life on a Calendar - 3 Valuable Insights

In June of 2015, I began to plan my entire day from the moment my eyes opened to the moment they closed.  I moved my entire life to a calendar, including: work, study, fun, workouts, music, practice, meals, and yes, even showers.

Yes, it is color-coded (titles removed to retain a small piece of privacy), and yes, you may enjoy a free laugh at my expense.  I deserve it.

I was working for a healthcare company out of Woodland Hills, CA.  I traveled a lot, and with colleagues in different parts of the country, my hours were chaotic.  Things outside of work that I was passionate about -- music, health, writing, friends, dreaming, reading, cooking, etc. -- received sporadic moments of attention, if any at all.  

If I was going to piece together a life that included time spent with all of my passions -- a life I desired -- I needed an improved system.  

Back then, I worked from a list, which is a great start if you employ the system now.  However, I hope you will consider upgrading your life management system after reading this.  Where a list reminds you of the things you intend to accomplish, a calendar tells you exactly when it is time to begin said task -- and, equally importantly, when to stop.  

There have been a host of interesting and worthwhile insights.  For example, I have learned that my ability to set reasonable timelines for myself is poor.  Things always take more time than I forecast. (I am working on this.)

The 3 most important insights obtained:
(in ascending order of impact) 

#1 - Removal of Errors
Everything that I am committed to in my life -- for better or worse -- is laid out on my calendar. When a new personal goal or request from another emerges, it gets assigned a block of time on my calendar, ensuring that the task gets completed.  From writing a Spanish essay, to reading up on an emerging trend, to submitting a thank you note, to completing a workout, to a FaceTime with a loved one -- it all gets mapped to the timeline, and subsequently, gets accomplished.

As an example, I am currently building out my setlist as a solo performer, so my calendar is filled with half hour slots dedicated to learning new material.  When the clock strikes, I pick up my instrument and begin.  If I was unable to complete the task in the given slot, I can adjust to give myself more time at that moment or I can create a future time slot for that task -- nothing is left incomplete. 

#2 - Intensified Focus
With every task that needs to be completed (at least those I am aware of) having a spot on the calendar, I no longer have to worry if I am forgetting something -- my mind no longer drifts elsewhere, nor wastes time determining what to accomplish in any given moment.  Knowing that each task has a specific, upcoming time to be completed, I can remain committed to the task at hand.

#3 - Increased Honesty
This last one is my favorite insight, but it is also the most difficult to swallow.  

I can, at any given moment, look at this timeline and know with crystal clarity what is of importance to me.

“Action expresses priorities.” -Mahatma Gandhi (Attorney and Civil Rights Activist)

No longer can I assert blanket statements like, “I care about my health,” “Helping others is my greatest passion” or most recently, “I maintain great relations with friends/family back in the US.” The calendar does not lie.  

About a month ago, I looked at the week behind me and realized I had not connected with a single family member or friend from back home.  Inexcusable, and I might have missed that truth had I not been tracking my activity.

The approach continues to evolve and improve in various ways.  The tasks have become more specific.  In the past, a 6-7pm slot might have been labeled “Music.”  Now it reads, Sam Smith “Lay Me Down,” as that is the specific song to develop at that time.

Lastly, it is worth noting that there are several life management tools, programs and apps that are worth exploring to find what will suit your needs best.  (Tom’s Planner, Asana, Evernote, Sunrise, etc.)

Better to investigate a bit on your own, before implementing a new approach. 

$.50 Philosophy

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Endless Support - A "Thank You"

I am forever humbled by the willingness of others to help me.

Last night, I received a tremendous invitation from a good friend of mine, Rob Downen.  He has earned some opportunities for his outstanding work in journalism and will be living in some different places throughout the United States over the next couple of years.

The invitation was eloquently written, but in short it read:
“I do not know what you are planning for yourself post-Spain, but if you wish to explore and work in another part of the country, you are more than welcome to come with me.  Do not let financial limitations hold you up -- we will make it work.  Additionally, my network will be expanding in the social/musical scenes and we will work together to navigate those channels…” 

Here’s the thing though:
This is not the only person who has introduced such an offering.

-Two of my dearest newlywed friends, Cori and Jacob Lewis, threatened me if I chose not to stay with them during my time back home.
-Three of my closest buddies that have (or will soon have) their own places throughout St Louis -- Dan Blair, Rob Curtis and Kyle Williams -- have all made similar offers.
-My buddies, Daniel LeMay and Paul Hart, living and thriving in Nashville, Tennessee, have introduced opportunities and expressed willingness to contribute to some musical projects.  
-My family, friends and students here in Spain continue to create and/or seek out opportunities for me, both professionally and creatively, and with regard to living conditions.

All of this is beyond the open homes I have available to me with my parents, Eric and Nan, and my brother and sister, Stuart and Kelly.

Furthermore, none of this touches on the individuals who contribute to my professional and creative endeavors -- my family/friends, John Jacobsen, Juan Dahmen, past and present bandmates, etc.  Others who answer my endless stream of questions via FaceBook Messenger and email about a range of topics.  And furthermore, the many others who take the time to listen to, watch and/or read the things that I make.

I do my best to treat people well -- rarely am I able to offer much more.  Yet somehow, I have managed to accumulate a most incredible network of support.  

I have dreams for what the next 6, 12, 18 months look like, but nothing finalized just yet.

As I said in my post, “Departing for Spain:”
“[We] are best suited to thrive and flourish, if we remain agile and flexible to the changing circumstances.  I intend to remain just those things.”

That remains true today.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to those of you that continue to reach out and help however you can, and to all those who have previously given me a leg up throughout my life.  I have not forgotten it.

$.50 Philosophy

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Right Thinking

     Like many of my fellow human beings, I can be a tragically poor thinker a lot of the time.  By that, I mean I lose sight of the grand picture unfolding before my eyes, and become petty, seeing daily living as a monotonous experience.  
     Fortunately, people and various other events (a thoughtful read, a new favorite song, an unexpected smile from a stranger, a trip, etc.) are able to snap me out of these episodes and I return to my glorious, front row center seat to this beautiful life.  I call it right thinking.
     When I employ right thinking, the totality of life becomes a space of endless opportunity.
Here’s what I mean:
    When I finish up with my family here at their home each evening, I have a ~10min trek by bicycle or a ~20min walk to my home.  Sometimes this period is a hindrance, an obstacle to overcome as quickly as possible -- colder nights are especially grudging experiences.  On other nights though, when I apply right thinking, this time is much better utilized:
    --I explore my mind and my heart to see how I feel about difficult topics or situations I have experienced or been witness to.  
    --I take basic song, essay or business ideas and play with them.
    --I study Spanish with a podcast.
    --I throw daggers at some new dream or idea I have been entertaining to see how it holds up and if it remains worth pursuing.
    --I listen to music and study lyrics for a new piece I am adding to my repertoire.
    --I reflect on the many people I cherish in life, both near and far, and express my hopes and compassion for them and their lives. 
    In short, obstacles -- in this case, evening commutes -- become opportunities.  
    The thing about right thinking is that it is seemingly always available to me, if only I will adjust my perspective, my approach to the avenues in which life is actually organized, as opposed to desiring, even forcing my own agendas upon it.  
    Employing right thinking as daily practice is never an easy task, but the warmer weather that is settling in certainly helps.

$.50 Philosophy