I have a device that fits in my hand and pocket and contains immediate access to all the discoveries, written histories and cultural achievements in the history of humanity.
Think about that for a second. It’s staggering.
We’ve landed men on the moon and robots on Mars. Modern medicine is on the verge of curing and preventing Alzheimer’s, cancer and genetic causes of heart disease.
But my home office printer is a spaz.
I have a powerful desktop computer that will whisk me off to faraway lands to enjoy the music and dancing of foreign cultures as they are actually happening. I can learn a new language and how to build or repair a house.
I can see and talk with friends I haven’t contacted in decades.
But my printer, a mere three feet away, can’t print a single page of text without sounding alarms and screaming out error messages. Each time it does we have to do a dance, my printer and I.
A few minutes ago I set the dance into motion by rebooting the printer, as usual. It has been clicking, clunking, whirring and spitting out blank pieces of paper since I started writing this. It shakes and clatters frantically, reminding me of the flailing arms of the robot in the original Lost In Space TV series of the sixties.
“Danger, Will Robinson!”
The app in the computer that contains my text source is ready to rock and roll, but the chunk of plastic next to me – which regularly reminds me I need to buy a new yellow cartridge to continue printing black ink – is still groaning and wheezing like a garbage truck.
What the hell is it doing?
I don’t fear guns made with 3D printers but I’m not in any hurry to get a heart from one, either.
I just turned 67. I feel fine, just got a clean bill of health in my annual checkup. I’m mentally alert and a whole lot wiser than I’ve ever been before.
But now I hear the steady tick-tick-tick I never noticed until quite recently.
The older I get the more excited I become by the life all around me. After fifty years of chasing career goals I’m close enough to the finish line now that I’m free of constant pressure to keep moving. I can sit down and look back with satisfaction. I can glance ahead with few wants and no expectations.
I enjoy my work more than ever because I’m not trying to go someplace else.
We’re always told to live in the present but you can’t get there until you get there.
Now I really do smell the coffee and the roses. I’m learning to let go of the nonsense and enjoy what’s left.
CarolAnn and I share the little things in our lives with more joy than ever. I’m embarrassed to admit I find myself paying the kind of detailed attention to our dogs that I should have paid to our kids when they were little. I tried, I really did, but there was always the background hum of things that needed to be achieved away from home. Now that’s finally gone.
I wish my boys could be boys again. They’d have more of me than I gave them 30 years ago. Still, they love me and they get it. I just didn’t know any better. I was being who I had to be at the time.
“Regret is just a memory written on my brow, and there’s nothing I can do about it now.” – Song written by Beth Nielsen Chapman, sung by Willie Nelson
But now there’s that damned clock. It doesn’t bother me because I fear death, it bothers me because I have so much I want to do yet and I sort of kick myself for not getting up to speed before now.
I know what you’re thinking and you’re right, what difference would it make? Each achievement would have simply brought a new idea. I’ll never finish as long as I can find things to excite me. I get that and I’m grateful.
None of us know how much time is left on the clock. When it stops we’ll be right in the middle of something important. So, here’s what I think:
At 67 achieving goals is less important than having them.
(Originally published in 2009. Hey, I’m only plagiarizing myself.)
When I was a kid we didn’t have air conditioning, just a swamp cooler. On really hot days I just laid on the cold tile floor under that fan and panted like my dog, Rusty. I always figured that’s where the term “dog days of summer” came from: dogs that just lie around and pant in the heat.
As much sense as that might make, I looked it up and here’s the deal:
The Ancient Romans called it caniculares dies (days of the dogs.) It arose from the notion that Sirius, the dog star, was angry this time of year and caused the Earth to get very hot. To appease the star’s rage the Romans sacrificed a brown dog at the beginning of Dog Days.
No, I don’t know why it had to be a brown dog.
The Romans, of course, thought nothing of committing carnage upon any creature that moved if it might be even remotely possible that a good screeching, bloody sacrifice would serve some useful or noble purpose.
This is why the Ancient Greeks were considered the brains of the outfit.
I have an office in our home that was originally a guest room. After we’d lived here for a couple of years it had only hosted two guests so CarolAnn decided I should put it to daily use. If anyone else comes to visit we’ll cross that bridge.
My room has family pictures on the walls and one very special photo in its original 67-year-old cardboard frame parked weirdly in a desk paper organizer. We’ll get a frame for it sooner or later. For now I get a warm, secure feeling from having my dad and mom smiling at me as I sit at my computer still trying to make something of my future.
They’d like that future planning, even at my age. They taught it to me.
It’s their wedding picture, taken August 6, 1950. I was born exactly one year later. As a young child unacquainted with the social implications of the times I always proudly told people I was born the same day they got married.
The Valentine’s Day card is from my CarolAnn from this past February as we started our 30th year together. It’s one of those just-perfect cards that seems like it was written specifically for the two of us. It allows me to be with her even when I’m alone in my room.
The smaller photo is our youngest grandson Tyler in a Christmas pose from a couple of years ago. He reminds me of why I want to keep learning and growing.
Oh, and the Snow White lamp? It used to reside in our Disney themed room in Southern California. We don’t have one of those here so it stays with me. I love the warm light, the bright colors and the constant reminder that we’ve invested a good portion of our time and fortune to the Disney Corporation. We feel it has been time and money well spent.
I love our home, every bit of it, but this is my favorite corner. It’s a snapshot of a small piece of my happy life.
The world can be a brutal place especially for the very young and helpless. Occasionally such a life is delivered to us. We do what we can.
This baby bunny was taken from its nest in our yard by one of our beloved pets, probably Cora, the cat.
Cora is a predator. She can’t help it, she’s a cat.
There were two babies to begin with. One was convinced to drink kitten formula in CarolAnn’s hands. In this very short video you can hear us cooing and worrying as if we were its parents.
When the feeding was finished the babies were put in a soft bed we made in a small box. The box was placed in our backyard flower garden with hope that the mother rabbit would retrieve them during the night. She did not. By the following morning one had died. CarolAnn took the other to a professional wildlife rescuer who specializes in rabbits.
Seems like a lot of effort to save a tiny wild animal, doesn’t it? Especially by people who routinely celebrate when our pets kill a rat in the same yard.
I can’t make sense of that. I just know I’m still worried about that bunny.
Mother’s Day makes me happy, a little sad and very proud.
I’m happy because my mom, Nancy Laura Webster Williams, is still alive at 86. I’m a little sad because she’s living in a total care facility in Sacramento which is too far for me to visit when I want to. And as much as I’d like to describe her as still being as lively and funny as she was at 30 or even 50 that’s just not the case.
I sent flowers and candy to mom for arrival on Mother’s Day. I’ll try to phone her Sunday but she doesn’t usually pick up the phone unless my brother has been there just a few minutes earlier and she’s expecting my call.
When I do talk with Mom she doesn’t seem depressed or sad. She’s not exactly happy, either. She’s in a bit of a fog though still present and responsive, if somewhat confused. She still tries to project enthusiasm and optimism though it’s not entirely convincing. Not to me, anyway. I know her; I am her.
She had a lot of roller coaster emotions in her life and seems to have smoothed them out.
She’s always happy to hear my voice and tells me so several times during each brief call. Then when we run out of things to say say too soon I tell her I love her she tells me she loves me too. She says it with the lucid fire of a mother’s heart.
Then she says goodbye and calls me Jim (my brother).
I always laugh about that. She sees my brother frequently so she gets us mixed up just a bit.
(Besides, when I was still a child and Mom was barely in her 30s she frequently called me Rusty, our dog’s name. So, brother Jim, you should feel honored.)
Mom has always made me laugh. She still has a sharp and sophisticated sense of humor that stabs through the fog of her slowly fading existence.
My late dad taught me to be confident, proud and respectful. Mom gave me my sense of humor and optimism.
“This can be a good day or a bad day, it’s all up to you.”
— Nancy Williams
I don’t know when she first told me that but it stuck. I’m sure she said it when I was a very young school boy lying in bed on an early school morning in North Highlands, California. I have never forgotten it.
When she passes I will cry but I’ll also have a huge, stupid smile on my face.
“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”
— George Bernard Shaw, “Man and Superman”
Leave it to an ill-tempered playwright and social activist to intentionally twist the words of a master.
The original quote was:
“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”
Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day / Week.
I’ve been out of school for nearly 50 years but there isn’t a single day in my life that I don’t remember at least one of my school teachers with deep gratitude and affection, not only for my education but for the inspiration that shaped the person I have become.
And, I like me.
Teachers have never been called upon to be and do more than they are today. We’ve gotten to a point where they’re not only asked to be educators and know something of child psychology, they also need to be part family counselor, part lawyer and in an increasing number of school districts and states, part law enforcement officers.
At the same time teachers still get a ton of grief from hyper-critical parents and local communities living in fear from an increasingly complex and violent world. We’re scared and confused.
Regardless of our age we have always looked to teachers to make sense of our world and lead us in the right direction.
Work days for teachers usually begin before sunrise and never really end. They go home long after the class day is over to try to balance the needs of their families while correcting papers, making class schedules and answering emails from parents.
Teachers deserve more yet receive much less pay than most of us who have more forgiving and less demanding careers. They do it because they are passionate about their calling.
To teach is to create a better world one child at a time.
As we celebrate teachers we need to go beyond smiling and saying thanks. Ancient cultures revered teachers equal to spiritual leaders and healers. We need to get back to that level of appreciation and to provide teachers with the salaries and benefits they richly deserve.
Remember your teachers with love and gratitude, even the ones you didn’t like when you were just a dumb kid.
And thank your children’s teachers at every opportunity. They’re helping your kids create their world in ways you cannot.
It’s raining today in North Texas. I love rain and dark, cloudy days.
Most people I know worship the sun. They seem to like summer best of all and the hotter it gets the better. I don’t get it. Summer was great when I was a kid, impervious to sweat and grime, running barefoot through neighborhood lawn sprinklers and slurping from any old hose lying around because that’s what they were for.
We didn’t have air conditioning when I was a kid. We had a swamp cooler on the roof that blew semi-cool, very humid air directly into the middle of the hallway between the living room and kitchen in our house. I used to lie my bare tummy on chilly asbestos tiles right under the swamp cooler, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts fashioned by my mother’s scissors applied to an old set of blue jeans.
I stayed there for hours on the hall floor with a stack of Dennis the Menace and Sad Sack comic books for entertainment.
Sometimes I took the pillow from my bed and put it on the floor next to my comic books. That was “the life of Riley”, as we called it in those days.
(I still don’t know why.)
Mom had to step over me to hang wet laundry on the clothes rack She didn’t mind. Sometimes she gave me my lunch there, peanut butter and grape jelly on Wonder white bread. I had to eat it fast so it didn’t dry out from the wind.
I wish I had pictures of all these things: me, my pillow, PBJ and comics. Sometimes my collie, Rusty, would lie down with me for a couple of minutes. He liked the cool floor but I don’t think he cared for the overhead wind.
For the past fifty or more years I’ve been able to enjoy and expect indoor air conditioning.
Now in my mid-sixties I don’t need to strip down to my shorts and lie on the floor under a swamp cooler.
I still like summer for its memories of all-day baseball, ice cream trucks, slip ‘n slides and hot days that wouldn’t end until bed time. I loved childhood.
These days I prefer old man comforts, winter and the temperate yet crazy weather days of spring and fall in Texas.
Dark skies and rain feel cozy to me. They call people like me pluviophiles.
I’m glad they have a name for it. I just thought I was weird.
I’ve been a proud and happy Texan for more than six years now so I figure I can step out and tell the one truth about this wonderful state nobody ever mentions.
Ain’t nothing pretty about it. Not in the conventional landscape sense, anyway.
The Western singers croon about the stars at night and yellow roses. The closest anyone ever comes to praising the view of the land is found in romantic visions of historic cattle drives and ancient buffalo herds. Even then nobody ever says the land is pretty. It ain’t. It’s a harsh land with cruel challenges.
Here’s something you probably didn’t know: in the entire, monster size state of Texas there is only one natural lake, Lake Caddo. And half of that is in Louisiana.
Oh, I know there are prettier parts of Texas than what I’ve seen so far. I’ll admit I’ve never been to the glorified Big Bend National Park but I’ve seen all the pictures Google has to offer and while it does seem to possess a lot of fascinating geological features there is nary a tree to be found and many of the pretty swimming holes in the pictorials are dry much of the year. When they’re not dry they are cautions for swimmers because they can contain deadly water moccasins and other natural vermin.
So, enjoy the pictures but keep your kids out of the water.
Most of the pretty photos you see of Texas are taken at sunrise or sundown. Texas magazines and blogs are full of sunrises and sunsets. I’ve posted many myself. I dare say you can take a picture of the sun on the horizon in the Sahara Desert, the Australian Outback or even Nevada and it will look lovely. That’s an astronomical effect, not the land itself.
Don’t misunderstand, I love Texas, I really do. More than anything else Texas is an attitude, a can-do spirit worn on the relaxed, happy smiles of everyone you meet. In Texas we don’t want no gubmint interference. We’ll give you the shirts off our backs, a good meal and a place to sleep. Tomorrow you’re on your own and we’ll wish you good luck.
That’s the Texas I know and love.
People of all ages and races tip their hats and give you a howdy. They hold open the door for you at the Mini Mart. They call you Sir and Ma’am even though they don’t have to. They’re always smiling because it’s the decent way to be. It’s Texan.
Above all, folks in Texas are outgoing and friendly. If you’re in a line with three strangers at the grocery store you’ll be swapping recipes by the time you get to the checkstand. And they always lace their conversations with deep Texas humor even when they talk about the scenery.
In a word, it’s flat.
“West Texas is a place where you can stand on the porch and watch your dog run away for a week.” — Hal Jay, WBAP Dallas
I’m a native Californian. I grew up with giant redwoods, the pine studded forests of the high Sierra and the cold, rocky coastline of the Pacific Ocean north of Mendocino. I miss all that but everything in life is a trade-off.
So, I’ll romanticize tumbleweeds blowing across I-20 from Midland to Odessa because it’s the most exciting thing you’ll see there. And it can be pretty at sunrise.
In Texas we have longhorn cattle lying contentedly in green groves of Blue Bonnets, though the wild flowers are only there for a month each spring. You’ve seen hundreds of pictures like this.
We have the world’s best barbecue and Tex-Mex cuisine, honky tonks and Texas swing; we got the Alamo, the Dallas Cowboys, Willie, Larry McMurtry and Dan “his ownself” Jenkins.
There’s a lot to love about Texas but not the view. People wax eloquently about Hill Country but you’ll never hear the word “mountain” in a description of the state. Even the haunting piney forests and bayous of East Texas, where ghostly cypress trees grow out of the swamps wearing old man beards of moss is merely west Louisiana.
I’m writing this in Abilene. Not only is it not the prettiest town I’ve ever seen, if you blindfolded me and spun me around and dropped me into the middle of it I might guess I was in Waco or Waxahachie, Dime Box or Gun Barrel City.
And I guess that’s the real beauty of Texas. It’s one place in time like all the others in the Lone Star State. It’s all different yet the same and it’s a lot of different people a whole lot alike.
Sweetness and attitude.
And you can call them country and they don’t care
And if you don’t like the way they wear their hair
You can take your like and shove ’em on up the line
People in Texas don’t care if the sun don’t shine